Something appears amiss with the current Spain team and not even the most ardent of Roja supporters can deny the fact. A 4-0 win over the Republic of Ireland was sandwiched between a 1-1 draw against Italy and a 1-0 win over Croatia; hardly the results that the fans of La Roja have grown accustomed to. Now question marks are seriously growing over whether Spain can retain the European Championship crown they won in 2008.

The biggest debate going into the competition revolved around the identity of the striker that would be leading the European champions in this tournament. During the opener against Italy, coach Vicente del Bosque opted to field Cesc Fabregas up front in what has come to be known as a “false 9” position. And while the Barcelona man eventually levelled the match after Antonio Di Natale’s opener, Spain looked far from impressive against a side that had been rocked by yet another match-fixing scandal days before travelling to Poland/Ukraine.

Ahead of Spain’s meeting against the Irish, Del Bosque knew that a change was needed. The ex-Real Madrid boss took a deep breath before deciding to field Fernando Torres as a traditional centre forward. The Champions League-winning striker broke the deadlock, never really allowing Ireland into the game in what eventually became a goal feast for Spain.

But Spain’s biggest test remained against Croatia, perhaps the team that surprised most at Euro 2012 in the group stage. Del Bosque stuck by his winning formula, but on this occasion, Torres failed to repeat his goalscoring heroics and was withdrawn in the 60th minute.

La Roja tried and tried again against the Croats, but mostly in vain. Despite having 64% of possession, only one of their nine attempts on target proved to be fruitful, and that was in the 88th minute from substitute Jesus Navas. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas was quick to admit that luck had a great hand in granting his side the victory on the night. “In the end we were lucky. We played our one-touch football and scored late on.”

Del Bosque refused to admit the weakness of his side after the win over Croatia, stating that there were more silver linings than critics would admit. “OK, Croatia threatened us from time to time, but in general terms, we did things well. I didn’t think that we stretched the game enough, so that meant there was always a threat of them creating a chance and converting it. Perhaps Ivan Rakitic and Darijo Srna had chances but that was it. The rest of the evening we dominated. The fact that Croatia had one good chance doesn’t mean that they were on top”, concluded the Salamanca-born boss.

The former Real Madrid manager did have more than a point. Croatia did not have many chances in the game, but for all of Spain’s huffing and puffing, a late goal was needed and a tightrope was walked for most of the contest. And that is something that the side needs to be aware of from now on. After spending the last four years head and shoulders above others on the international stage, Spain could very well find frustration more often than not from now on.

Employing a system that bares great resemblance to the Barcelona dogma, it is no secret that La Roja owe the Blaugrana much credit for their success. In the 2010 FIFA World Cup final against Holland, seven starters were Barcelona players.

But the Catalan giants have found at times that although their system can be eye-catching and a joy to watch, it does not always guarantee success. Chelsea were the biggest testament to this theory last season, sitting back, soaking up pressure and then striking with deadly force against Barcelona in the Champions League; and the same goes for Spain. The problem is that there is no plan B once the flashy one-touch football approach fails to bare fruit.

La Seleccion need to have an alternative. In the group stage, they were matched by Italy, given license to roam by a very poor Irish side and had to wait until the closing moments of the match against Croatia to seal the game. Against France in the quarter-finals, and possibly Germany later on if all goes well for Del Bosque’s men, Spain need to up their game to be standing on the trophy podium in Kyiv.