In their first game of this World Cup, Spain were handily defeated by the Netherlands 5-1. Even more worrying than the score line was Spain’s second half capitulation to the Oranje. It was not the performance worthy of a World Cup champion and consequently, the question (or gleeful exclamation) asking if Spain’s 6 year run of excellence is over has been widely discussed. Eric Duffy looks into whether Spain can bounce back this tournament.
The truth of the matter is the answer will remain unknown until Spain face Chile in their next match on Wednesday. If Spain comes out, controls the match, and soundly defeats the South American side then the daggers will be put away and Spain’s obituary will be postponed. In the final group match they should go on to easily beat the Aussies and with a little bit of luck will advance to the knock out round where anything could happen. However, if Spain loses or draws with Chile or even wins with a lacklustre performance the team will have written its own epitaph.
With one game being able to answer the debate over Spain’s demise being imminent or premature, the only question that currently matters then is this: was the embarrassing performance against the Netherlands the wake up the squad needed or indicative of the team’s current ability and motivation?
It is an important question and one worth considering. Spain’s roster is not only the most experienced in this World Cup, but also the most decorated. In this sense, complacency could be their biggest opponent and as such, Spain didn’t lose to the Netherlands as much as they were defeated by their lack of ambition.
Or maybe Spain was just unlucky on Friday. It is worth remembering that the outcome of the match could have been very different. If Silva scores when he should have or had just slid the ball across to Costa, Spain goes up 2-0 and the game may well have been over. Furthermore, despite the Netherlands’s domination in the second half, the score line can be viewed as misleading. The first two of the goals were scored by amazing demonstrations of skill by two world class players. The next two goals could have easily been avoided: Casillas’s inability to control a simple back pass and Van Persie’s block on Casillas for De Vrij’s header. If that match is replayed does the Netherlands score any of those four goals?
So maybe what happened on Friday was just what Spain needed. A resounding defeat and days upon days of criticism could be the motivating factor the team needs to rebound and re-establish their hunger and edge. The rust was kicked off, they were humiliated, and their reputations were tarnished. Now, the players have something to fight for and the rest of the teams should be afraid. Or maybe it was one of those games where everything that could go wrong for Spain, did. And in fact, Spain is just fine.
Conversely, the disaster the world witnessed on Friday could just be the current state of the Spanish squad. Their best players have been playing and winning non-stop for 6 years. They are older than before, their legacies are intact, and their playing style has been analysed and copied to death. In short, maybe they are no longer as dynamic as they once were.
Friday gave plenty of evidence to that. Spain’s tactics, even in the first half, were ineffective. The possession based team that would lull opponents to sleep before slipping a pass into space and creating a goal out of seemingly nothing was not present on the pitch last Friday. Their only goal was scored from a penalty through a controversial call and far too often the defenders sent balls across and up the field where not surprisingly, Spain would lose possession. The team was uncreative, seemingly unmotivated, and seemed to hope to win on their reputation only.
So, maybe this is Spain now. A team full of wonderful players that have nothing left; too old and tired to play the way that made them successful and too stubborn or too set in their ways to adjust their strategy. Maybe the old Spain is dead and the Netherlands was the team that handed them and their style its death certificate.
So the question remains, did Spain make those mistakes and cost themselves the game because of complacency and misfortune or because Netherlands was that good and Spain just isn’t anymore? Only the players wearing the Spanish jersey know the answer to that question.
For the rest of us, there is only one way to find out and that is how Spain responds against Chile. A decisive win on Wednesday and a little bit of luck and Spain is in the knockout stages and the world remembers their first game as the dust being knocked off the champions. Anything else and the Netherlands will be remembered for hammering the final nail into Spain’s coffin as the world watched on.
Surely everyone will be watching on Wednesday as well. The only question that night will be which Spain shows up.