Spain came from behind to beat a spirited Tunisia side 3-1 in a thrilling enounter in Stuttgart
Trailing 1-0 at half time to a Mnari goal, Spanish coach Luis Aragones brought on Raul, Fabregas and Joaquin and the trio turned the game Spain’s way in a scintillating closing twenty minutes.
Raul was once again on the bench as Aragones opted to stick with the pairing of David Villa and Fernando Torres in attack.
Tunisia striker Francileudo dos Santos was named as a substitute despite there being doubts whether he was going to recover from a shin injury.
Coach Roger Lemerre had included Mehdi Nafti at the expense of striker Yassine Chikhaoui, leaving Ziad Jaziri as the lone man up front. He also replaced defender David Jemmali with Anis Ayari.
Against the run of play and from their first real effort Tunisia took a shock lead. After good work from Jaziri the ball fell to Mnari whose first-time volleyed effort was blocked by Casillas, but the ball popped back up for the midfielder and he had no trouble beating the prostrate Spanish keeper from close-range.
The early setback didn’t seem to concern Spain too much and they were immediately up the other end causing problems for the Tunisian defence. However, the north African side were working dilligently to deny space and Luis Aragones’ side were being forced to work hard to maintain the pressure.
Luis Garcia had a great chance to level the scores from a Xavi free-kick when he eluded his marker but the Liverpool player glanced his header just wide. His club-mate Xabi Alonso also came close when he cleverly created space for himself and unleashed a powerful shot that fizzed just past the post.
With the rain pouring down the pitch was ideal for Spain’s slick passing game, but for all their possession they were struggling to test Boumnijel in the Tunisian goal. Their best chance came from one of a succession of corners, and although Boumnijel was beaten by Alonso’s header the ball was cleared off the line by the alert Ayari.
Fabregas was introduced with Raul after the break and the youngster came close to levelling, but his fierce drive was parried by Boumnijel.
Apart from that effort though Spain looked like they were running out of ideas and although Tunisia were not creating anything going forward, their defence was holding out with ease. Time and again the Spanish midfield would string passes across the pitch but they were struggling to link with their forwards and most of their efforts were speculative long range shots. Pernia in particular was guilty of shooting on sight when he would have been better advised passing to a teammate.
With twenty minutes remaining and Spain looking bereft of inspiration Raul exorcised some of his demons after a terrible couple of years. The goal was a vindication of Aragones’ substitution policy with all three replacements being involved. Joaquin cut inside the full-back and found Fabregas whose first time shot was parried by Boumnijel but Raul was first to the rebound and clipped the ball over the keeper.
Two minutes later Boumnijel again denied Fabregas but this time Boumnijel the ball deflected to safety.
Moments later Spain were ahead. Torres was set free by a wonderful through ball by Fabregas and the Atletico Madrid striker neatly sidestepped the onrushing keeper and finished with the outside of his right foot.
With less than a quarter of an hour remaining Tunisia’s game plan was in tatters and having spent the bulk of the game defending their own goal they had to make a rapid transition into an attacking unit. It wasn’t easy against a side like Spain who are past masters at retaining possession and adept at killing off matches.
Torres should have added a third when he was again set free by Fabregas but this time Boumnijel denied the forward at full stretch.
In the final minute Torres was again involved when he was hauled down in the penalty area. The striker picked himself up and slotted home the penalty for his third goal in the competition.
The scoreline possibly flattered Spain, who until the arrival of the three replacements, looked like they were going to flatter to deceive at yet another tournament. However, the fightback indicated that this team may be made of sterner stuff than their predecessors and could be a threat as the tournament develops.
Spain: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Puyol, Pablo, Pernia, Xavi, Alonso, Senna, Luis Garcia, Torres, Villa.
Subs used: Raul 46 (for Garcia), Fabregas 46 (for Senna), Joanquin 56 (for Villa).
Bookings: Puyol 30, Fabregas 90.
Tunisia: Boumnijel, Haggui, Jaidi, Ayari, Trabelsi, Mnari, Bouazizi, Chedli, Namouchi, Nafti, Jaziri.
Subs used: Ghodhbane 57 ( for Bouazizi), Yahia 57 (for Ayari) Gmamdia 79 (for Chedli)79 (for Chedli).
Bookings: Ayari 32, Trabelsi 40, Jaidi 70, Gmamdia 80, Jaziri 85. Mnari 92.
Referee: Carlos Eugenio Simon (Brazil)
Tunisia: Mnari 8
Spain: Raul 73, Torres 76, 90 (pen)