GDANSK, Poland — Spain coach Vicente del Bosque didn't flinch when asked time and again about the big question: Will he or won't he field a striker against Ireland?
In Spain's first European Championship match against Italy, Del Bosque faced some criticism for deploying midfielder Cesc Fabregas in an advanced attacking position in a 4-5-1 formation. The match ended in a 1-1 draw with an equalizer from Fabregas, but it was the first time in five years the defending champion failed to start with a traditional striker with Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo all available.
On Thursday, anything less than victory against Ireland could jeopardize the world champions' chances of advancing. Croatia leads Group C with three points. Spain and Italy each have a point while Ireland is bottom with zero.
Del Bosque did acknowledge that he had indeed already selected his team to face Ireland, but insisted on keeping it a secret despite repeated attempts by journalists to coax it out of him.
"Our morale is high. We're in a good moment of form," he said. "But I've never given out the lineup on the eve of a game and today will be no exception."
The coach replied curtly to numerous questions on the subject and also on suggestions that his job may be in jeopardy.
"I'm the one who has to take the decisions, everything else is just opinion," del Bosque said. "I have no enemies."
Del Bosque wasn't taking Ireland lightly in the first meeting between the pair since the 2002 World Cup, when Spain reached the quarterfinals with a penalty shootout victory. He said that Xavi Hernandez's lingering calf problem wasn't a worry.
But with Carles Puyol missing, that leaves Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique playing together in central defense for only the third time. Jordi Alba is playing in his first major tournament and is carrying a yellow card alongside fellow full back Alvaro Arbeloa and Torres.
The coach didn't think the Irish would play defensively because they have "quality players, with two wingers who play very well.
"We have to be ready for whatever rival is in front of us. I don't think they will just sit back, they have players with the capacity to attack."
Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP