Even the mercurial playmaking powers of David Silva found it tough to break down Iran’s resolute rearguard.
The Manchester City midfield orchestrator was everywhere and at the heart of La Roja’s dominance on Wednesday night, but it took Spain time to breach Iran’s considerable resistance as they always had 10 men behind the ball.
There was no doubt a goal was coming and Silva was involved in the build-up to Diego Costa’s second-half winner in the 1-0 victory.
Here, we take a closer look at his performance in-depth as Spain and Portugal go one and two in the Group B standings.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 5
Shots on target – 1
Key passes – 2
Passing accuracy – 90.7%
Dribbles – 1
Touches – 88
Silva had Real Madrid playmaker Isco and Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta for company in Fernando Hierro’s five-man midfield, with Sergio Busquets as anchor and Lucas Vazquez out wide, supporting the lone threat of Costa.
Even at the age of 32, the Spaniard’s brainwaves on the pitch seemed a cut above the rest. He was indeed the standout player on the pitch in the first-half, making 43 passes with a 93 per cent accuracy rate and registering, surprisingly, five shots on goal.
While only one of them was a clear-cut opportunity Silva dropped deeper after the break and looked to gather the ball further away from goal. Whether or not that was a tactical tweak by boss Hierro, or Silva’s own instincts, it worked. He found Iniesta with a cute pass which eventually led to the winning goal.
Iran threw more caution to the wind in the last 15 minutes or so but Silva was a calming presence on the ball in the midfield, and just what they needed.
Iran tried to quickly close down David Silva at every opportunity.
TAKING RESPONSIBILITY: While Isco was also very effective in Spain’s close-knit midfield, Silva seemed to cradle the attacking burden and was often getting in and around Costa, feeding the striker and playing one-twos.
Indeed, on not one occasion did he not show for the ball and give Spain’s back four, particularly full-backs Dani Carvajal and Jordi Alba, an out ball in the middle of the pitch. This, despite the fact Iran often tried to crowd him out.
SHOWED POWERS OF ENDURANCE: Iniesta, as expected, departed with 20 minutes left and Vazquez – who struggled to make much of an impact – soon followed.
But there was Silva, picking the ball up once again in added time and ensuring Spain maintained possession to see the game out. He was always alert and in-tune with what was needed.
CHANCES TO BREAK IRAN’S RESOLVE: With five attempts in the first-half, all of differing difficulty, you would have expected one of those to find the back of the net.
Interestingly, Silva has 35 goals at international level but has managed only 61 in eight years with City. It goes to show he is capable of turning the screw on the grandest stage.
HAS HE GOT A SECOND GEAR?: Premier League observers have watched the former Valencia star grow into one of the English top-flight’s best-ever imports over the past eight seasons – and we all have become used to seeing this kind of display littered with intricate passing and neat touches.
There were times, in this contest, that you felt he needed to bring a bit more pace and zip to his end product and passing and lead by example with Iniesta’s natural decline in the final third and Isco’s quiet display.
25th minute, FREE-KICK: Strikes dead-ball effort from 25 yards out straight into the grateful palms of Alireza Beiranvand.
29th minute, CHANCE: The City ace does well to get decent contact on the ball, hooking over the bar in a crowded penalty box.
45th + 2 minute, DEFLECTED SHOT: Drifts in from the right, gets the ball onto his favoured left-foot after a neat one-two as things open-up. But Iran block his effort.
54th minute, INVOLVED IN GOAL: For all Spain’s tiki-taka football, the nature of the opener was ugly as Silva fed Iniesta with a throughball and Costa’s deflected effort found the net.
70th minute, CORNER AND FLICK: Straight from the training ground, a lovely routine sees Isco roll the ball to Silva who had peeled off his man and then popped off the ball back to Sergio Ramos inside the penalty area. The Los Blancos skipper’s shot led to a goalmouth scramble in the box.
78th minute, THROUGH PASS: Collects the ball with plenty of space down the left and finds Costa with a delicious ball around the corner of the Iran defence.
With qualification for the knockout phase yet to be sealed, Spain will be reliant on Silva, as well as his midfield colleagues, to clinch their round two berth with a victory against Morocco.
On this evidence, the Spaniard certainly seems in fine fettle and naturally seemed to find more of a foothold in this one than he did during the draw with Portugal.
Ultimately, if Silva is ticking, La Roja should be happy and confident they will progress.
RATING – 7/10
Silva makes a darting run through the centre.