Torres the key if Spain are to unlock Italy defence
The 24-year-old has come off the back of a stellar first season at Liverpool, racking up 33 goals in all competitions.sports Updated: Jun 21, 2008 14:48 IST
David Villa has been thrust into the spotlight after his hat-trick against Russia and a last-gasp winner against Sweden but Fernando Torres will have played a key role if Spain upset world champions Italy on Sunday.
If Villa has been dealing the matador's final blow, strike partner Torres has been responsible for tormenting and weakening Spain's opponents.
The 24-year-old has come off the back of a stellar first season at Liverpool, racking up 33 goals in all competitions for the Premiership side and doing enough to be compared to Anfield greats such as Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish and Robbie Fowler.
Accustomed to carrying a team on his shoulders at his previous club Atletico Madrid, Torres has been liberated since his move to England, thriving on the quick service from the midfield and making the most of the space to run at the opposition back four.
For Spain, however, he has had to play a very different role. Here his job is to stretch opposition defences with his galloping runs around the area, making room for his streetwise team mate.
Villa admitted as much after his coolly taken hat-trick against the Russians.
"I scored two goals benefiting from his work," he said. "He did the unseen work and I got the credit.
"My first two goals were thanks very much to Torres, the first he gave me the pass and the second he helped make the space for me."
Torres has occasionally been frustrated by his supporting role and was clearly upset at being substituted during the second half of the Russia game but he is not the sort of player to get downhearted for long.
In the past Italy have been renowned for their ironclad defence but they have been uncharacteristically shaky in the absence of captain Fabio Cannavaro.
If there is one player who can help to exploit that uncertainty it is Torres, a tougher and more versatile player since his move to England.
"Fernando Torres has made an incredible improvement," Cannavaro said in the run-up to the tournament. "Last year I saw him as a bit of a softie, someone who hid, but then he went to the Premier League, where you can't be a softie and he exploded."
Torres also has experience of winning international competitions having helped his country to victory at the Under-17 and Under-19 European championships in 2001 and 2002. Spain would dearly love him to repeat that success with the senior side.