Andres Iniesta showed why he could be the key to Spain’s chances at Euro 2012 when he came off the bench to inspire the world and European champions to a 1-0 win at home to China in their final warm-up game on Sunday.
The fleet-footed midfielder, introduced at halftime at a festive Estadio de la Cartuja in sweltering Seville, gave Spain the attacking flair they were missing in the first half and set up David Silva to score the 84th-minute winner after the hosts had squandered a slew of chances and twice hit the crossbar.
Picking the ball up wide on the left, he surged past his marker into the area and pulled it back past stranded goalkeeper Zeng Cheng for Silva to side-foot into the empty net.
Centerback Raul Albiol had rattled the frame of the goal with a header from a Fernando Torres flick from a 62nd-minute corner and Iniesta side-footed on to the crossbar after an audacious piece of close control a minute later.
“They closed the game down well in the first half, but we woke up in the second and could have scored more goals,” Silva said in a pitchside interview with Spanish TV. “Andres made it very easy for me pulling the ball back and I just had to tap it in, he is a fantastic player.”
Spain, who play their opening Group C match at Euro 2012 against Italy on Sunday, would have won by a considerably wider margin had it not been for an inspired display by Cheng, easily China’s best player.
The tenacious visitors, coached by former Spain boss Jose Antonio Camacho, made the brighter start and the home side narrowly avoided falling behind in a toothless first-half display from the world’s top-ranked side.
Zheng Zhi rounded goalkeeper Iker Casillas in the eighth minute after an uncharacteristic mistake by Xabi Alonso, but he fired his shot wide and the China captain then forced a brilliant save from his opposite number just before the half hour.
Alvaro Negredo had Spain’s best chance of the first period in the 10th minute, but scuffed his shot straight at Cheng from Silva’s low center.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque threw on players, including Fernando Torres, Jesus Navas and Iniesta, for the second half and the scoring chances started to flow as the world champions hogged possession.
A hungry-looking Torres, bidding to make the strikers’ role his own in the absence of injured record scorer David Villa, volleyed wildly over from a Jordi Alba cross in the 67th minute and was then twice denied by Cheng, before Silva fired straight at the goalkeeper from close range.
China, ranked 66th in the world, were ultimately overwhelmed by Spain’s slick passing game and they barely troubled Victor Valdes in the hosts’ goal after he replaced Casillas at the break.
Spain are bidding to become the first nation to win back-to-back continental titles with a World Cup in between at Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.