Cesc Fabregas has been the nearly-man for Spain since he first broke into the team aged 18.
After impressing for Arsenal in their 2006 Champions League campaign, Spain coach Luis Aragones summoned Fabregas for a friendly against Ivory Coast. For the six years since, Fabregas has been first-choice.
Unfortunately for the midfielder, that first-choice has been from the bench, rather than from the start. The Barca star has found his path blocked by Barcelona's stellar trio of midfield superstars, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
Now the three amigos are Fabregas's teammates, but still the former-Gunners captain is forced to play elsewhere. As good as he is, the fact remains that Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets have consolidated their positions in the Spanish midfield. There is no room for another here, even a player as talented as Fabregas.
Which is why the current Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque experimented with Fabregas in the 'false nine' position against Italy. The Barca number four is simply too talented a player to leave on the bench. Every other team in the competition would find room for his incisive passes, his valuable goals, and Del Bosque understandably attempted to accommodate him.
Fabregas has shone at international level throughout his career. Aged 16, he was voted Player of the Tournament at the 2003 under-17 World Championship. Despite sporadic appearances since for the national side, he still possesses 65 caps and 10 international goals. He played a part in the Euro 2008 winning side, taking the place of the injured David Villa in the final after a series of match-winning performances as a substitute.
At the World Cup in South Africa he again patiently waited as his other colleagues got the nod in front of him. Once again he bided his time, and once again he made a telling contribution from the bench, providing the game-winning assist for Iniesta in the World Cup final against Holland.
He's paid his dues and he's waited patiently, and he now deserves the opportunity to shine from the start at an international tournament.
Fabregas is now coming into his prime as a footballer. The 25-year-old surely earmarked Euro 2012 and the next World Cup as his tournaments to make an impact. In two years time, at World Cup 2014, the 34-year-old Xavi will most likely play a much reduced role, and Fabregas will take his place in the first-team.
Against Italy, in Spain's first Group C match, Fabregas started and scored, but Spain did not win, drawing 1-1. So against Ireland, Torres came into the starting 11, and scored two, leading many to assume his is the starting place against Croatia.
But Fabregas also notched against Ireland, coming off the bench to score a goal with such power that it seemed he was taking all his on-pitch frustrations out on the ball.
Fabregas can do nothing more to underline his case to start. If Spain lack a recognised centre-forward, Fabregas has indicated his willingness to play this role, having successfully auditioned against Italy. Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets' place remains untouchable - each is a crucial cog to the Spain machine.
But if one place were up for grabs, it would be Xabi Alonso's. The Real Madrid star has great vision, supreme technique and a wonderful passing ability, but then so does Fabregas. And, in the form of Busquets, Spain already possess a gifted holding midfielder.
Adding the ex-Arsenal man to the mix would, if anything, speed up Spain's passing. It would quicken the tempo, and give them a greater threat in the final third. Xabi Alonso has done nothing wrong, but in a midfield group as talented as Spain's, performances have to be outstanding in every game.
Anything less and your vulnerable, with Fabregas, Jesus Navas, Javi Martinez and Santi Cazorla chomping at the bit to take your place. Having said that, Del Bosque is unlikely to tinker with a winning team, but the addition of Fabregas would surely not be a gamble.
The former-Gunner has done enough to earn a starting place in his preferred midfield position. Against Croatia this evening, we will find out if Del Bosque feels the same way.
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