Jun 30, 2013, 10:16 PM EST
In previewing Spain’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Italy, we noted that with the possible exception of Portugal at last year’s European Championships, no team had been able to go toe-to-toe with Spain and survive. Yes, Switzerland (World Cup 2010) and the United States (Confederations Cup 2009) had beat La Furia Roja in competitive matches, but they did so by employing a low-percentage approach that gave them the proverbial puncher’s chance. Like Holland in the 2010 World Cup final, they didn’t exactly play their game.
Yet in the span of four days, we’ve seen two teams stay true to themselves, stand flat-footed in front of the world champs, and survive. Other teams have done this in friendlies – Italy and France are two that come to mind – but Italy’s semifinal performance was the first time since Portugal we’ve seen a team truly trouble the Spaniards.
And then Sunday, Brazil not only troubled Vicente del Bosque’s side, they routed them. A goal in the second minute followed by a half of pressure led to a 2-0 lead by intermission. Scoring two minutes into the second half, Brazil couldn’t have made it look simpler. It was an unfathomably easy win over a team many consider to the best of all time.
Since there’s no way to know whether this was just an off day or the first cracks in the dam, it’s of little use to proclaim this is the end of the Spanish armada. It might be. Results as dramatic as these often hint at something bigger. But without the context of future matches, we can’t draw broad conclusions. All we can do is look at possibilities.
As it concerns their future dominance, the most concerning part of today’s performance was their midfield’s ineffectiveness. Yes, their defense was troublesome, but that’s never hindered them before. And although Iker Casillas was bad, Spain has a slew of other goalkeepers. But they don’t have another Xavi Hernandez. They don’t have another Andres Iniesta. If other teams can find ways to limit that duo’s effectiveness, be it through athleticism and physicality (like Brazil) or pure numbers (like Italy), Spain is in as much trouble as their doubters may proclaim. You don’t need super talent, only a particularly type of talent, to implement either of those approaches.
Compounding this possibility – and as this point, it’s nothing more than a distant possibility – is Spain’s unwillingness to develop another option. Jesus Navas’s wide play could be thought of as a significant change, but there was a time before Vicente del Bosque where Spain used to make better use of their forwards, be they David Villa, Daniel Guiza, or an in-form Fernando Torres. Now, with Spain rarely playing real wingers and seemingly accepting forward’s a synonym for black hole (they’re still starting Torres), there are no alternatives. They’ve imposed their own tactical limitations, making themselves a sitting duck.
It’s a testament to Spain’s talent that they haven’t been exploited before, exactly why predictions of their demise are so confounding. We can talk Xs and Os all day, but those are ultimately mere plans which make teams more or less likely to win. At some point, Iniesta can just better than his opponent. Same for Xavi. Same for any of the myriad of options del Bosque has at his disposal. Even if that doesn’t mean reintegrating a player like Fernando Llorente, Spain is more than capable of adjusting.
The question is whether they will. Their lack of adjustments over the last five years is both understandable and what’s led to this point of doubt. Is this a flaw in their DNA, something that can’t be changed without compromising what makes them Spain? Or will Spain evolve?
Or, is this result just a one-off? Spain is old. Their Barcelona and Real Madrid-heavy squad has played an unprecedented number of games (club and country) during Spain’s run, and unaccustomed to the Brazilian heat, La Roja may have wilted. Had they not played four games leading into the Brazil match, or if they had more preparation ahead of the games (as they will at next year’s World Cup), perhaps we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
We are, in fact, having this conversation, though. Brazil proved Spain was not only mortal but potentially vulnerable: exploitable. While it’s too early to know the extent to which Spain have faded, based on the lofty stature they held after their game against Uruguay, it’s fair to say they have faded. If only a little.
Dec 8, 2013, 9:44 PM EST
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The difference between missed opportunities and bad luck.
Dec 8, 2013, 8:45 PM EST
Fulham decided it early against Aston Villa, while Giroud was denied late at The Emirates.
Dec 8, 2013, 7:40 PM EST
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Collin, Feilhaber, Findley and Schuler may have changed the way we see their careers.
Pulis vs. Allardyce; Crystal Palace vs. West Ham: Earle, Mustoe talk diverging paths of Eagles, Hammers (video)
Dec 8, 2013, 6:38 PM EST
NBC Sports’ analysts consider what’s going right in the South, wrong in the East.
Dec 8, 2013, 5:43 PM EST
New depths for Moyes, Everton continues to convince, and perspective required for Chelsea’s, City’s stumbles.
Dec 8, 2013, 2:51 PM EST
Roma’s enormous win, fueled by Mattia Destro’s winner in his season debut, gave the Giallorossi a vital three to keep pace with Juventus and extend their distance from Napoli.
Dec 8, 2013, 2:23 PM EST
Wenger believes consistency will be the key, but can Arsenal learn from previous campaigns and not shot themselves in the foot?
Dec 8, 2013, 12:59 PM EST
Mesut Ozil gave Arsenal the lead with just 10 minutes to go, but Gerard Deulofeu broke Arsenal fans hearts not long after.
Dec 8, 2013, 11:47 AM EST
The North London Derby gets a third chapter this season as the two sides will face off in the FA Cup third round. See the complete draw results here:
Dec 8, 2013, 10:33 AM EST
Dimitar Berbatov looked like a changed man and Steve Sidwell scored as well to give Fulham their first win in seven weeks.
Dec 8, 2013, 10:31 AM EST
Arsene Wenger has the Gunners flying high at the top of the league, with a chance for another impressive win against Everton to put them 7 points clear.
Dec 8, 2013, 9:14 AM EST
Fulham are well on their way to ending a run of six consecutive defeats.
Dec 8, 2013, 8:36 AM EST
It’s slowly coming out that David Moyes has been keeping an eye on summer target Kevin Strootman of Roma.
Dec 8, 2013, 7:50 AM EST
Can Rene Meulensteen breathe life into Dimitar Berbatov and a weary Fulham squad, or will it be Villa’s away day magic that continues to shine bright at Craven Cottage?
Dec 7, 2013, 11:05 PM EST
We’ll know in the next few days:
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 PM EST
Can the Gunners stretch their lead at the summit? Will Fulham stop the rot? Both games live on NBCSN:
Dec 7, 2013, 10:00 PM EST
Experience was key early, set pieces came back to haunt them, and nobody will remember how you lost.
Dec 7, 2013, 9:28 PM EST
A few take-aways from Sporting Kansas City’s side on the clubs’ MLS Cup triumph Saturday over Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park:
Dec 7, 2013, 9:01 PM EST
Both coaches said so after Saturday’s exciting match:
Dec 7, 2013, 8:35 PM EST
Sporting Kansas City’s center back scored a goal in the run of play and then nailed a beauty of a penalty kick:
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