Coming off international successes as World Champions and dual European Champions, many believed Spain would come out of the World Cup qualifiers relatively unscathed. With a relatively mediocre group, consisting of France, Belarus, Georgia and Finland, who would’ve expected their job to be so tough?
After starting off strongly with back to back wins against Georgia and Belarus respectively, Spain looked in great shape. However a draw against France at the Vicente Calderon left a mark on the players. And with the dressing room made up of Real Madrid and Barcelona players, the dressing room was in disarray, players left with no confidence.
With Clasicos getting more intense and mateship on the line, Spain looked to be falling apart. Following a woeful performance against 87th ranked side Finland, Spain were looking down into a barrel, and with the playoffs looming, things were not looking good as Spain prepared to face a French resurgence of late.
Calls were made by fans and media alike for a ‘plan B’. Dominating possession meant nothing, and Spain seemed to be unable to break down an ultra defensive team in Finland. Penetrating the flanks was a rarity and in hindsight, Arbeloa should not and played and Navas should’ve started.
However things took a dramatic turn on Tuesday evening. Spain looked to playing their best football once again. Their switching play from flank to flank was excellent, with Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso not just passing the ball around in the middle of the park, but constantly switching the play to the wing, dragging the defence wide which led to gaping holes in the middle. France’s defence never looked comfortable and the lack of creating chances was never an issue.
Xavi never looked out of touch, Sergio Busquets was great in defence, continually winning the ball back, Iniesta was class, Alonso did well to control the game as a deep lying mid and Pedro’s intelligent running and not to mention his goal all in all wrapped up a phenomenal performance. They now have that no.1 spot on the table and the match marked the continuation of Spanish dominance on the global stage.
Despite the peerless performance of the men mentioned above, let us not forget the contributions of two players which are constantly over-looked: goalkeeper Victor Valdes and Nacho Monreal.
With two casualties heading into the match, Casillas out with a hand injury and Alba out with a thigh injury, fans had every reason to be worried.
In hindsight however, it was a risk worth taking.
Valdes, as the last line of the defence, was a rock, pulling off two world-class saves. First the man from Cataluña denied Ribery in a one-on-one. With Ribery in fine international goal scoring form, no one would’ve expected Valdes to pull off such a save, especially when you take into account the magnitude of such an occasion and pressure placed on his back to fill in those gigantic shoes of the legendary Casillas. And he was at his best again in the 86th minute to deny Evra a goal with a brilliant reactionary save. His reaction said it all!
Monreal’s heroics also deserve a mention. He defended with discipline, his tackling was aggressive and he was a constant threat as he ventured down the flanks leading to the all important goal assist and he seemed comfortable in the team’s setup, doing his job well in place of the injured Alba and most importantly blocked Varane’s shot which looked set to end up in the back of the net.
With Spain returning to their brilliant best, it looks unlikely these two players will start for the team. However the presence of these two world class players will only make the team stronger and more dangerous. Look out Brazil! Your party looks set to be trampled by a Spanish styled fiesta!