Jun 30, 2013, 10:16 PM EDT
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.
Sep 2, 2015, 8:47 AM EDT
Let’s dig into the figures, at least in terms of the 20 Premier League clubs, including the controversial amount of players on loan from Chelsea.
Sep 2, 2015, 8:16 AM EDT
We’re just a few weeks away from further information on the strength of the cases against Sepp Blatter’s FIFA.
Sep 1, 2015, 10:08 PM EDT
If both sides really wanted to make this transfer happen, they could have. Is it possible neither team wanted the deal to get done?
Sep 1, 2015, 9:37 PM EDT
Based on the Citizens’ form to start the season, it looks like money well spent.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:08 PM EDT
After spending just $20 million this summer on a goalkeeper and a teenager, Arsenal fans want to know what’s going on in the boardroom.
Sep 1, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT
Considering Premier League teams spent more than $1.3 billion on transfers this summer, it’s quite the list.
Sep 1, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
We all thought they would happen, but with the transfer window now closed, we’re left scratching our heads.
Sep 1, 2015, 5:34 PM EDT
Clear your schedule at 7 p.m. ET for two hours of coverage detailing a wild and crazy Deadline Day in the Premier League. Watch live on NBCSN or online, right here.
Sep 1, 2015, 4:24 PM EDT
Take a look at every transfer made in the Premier League on a wild and crazy Deadline Day.
Sep 1, 2015, 3:32 PM EDT
The former Tottenham man spent the end of last season on loan at Goodison Park, and now the move has been made permanent.
Sep 1, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
The winger was flown into Leicester on the owner’s helicopter as a last minute signing for the Foxes.
Sep 1, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Let’s hope these guys match up in the UEFA Champions League, where time can be kept on the field.
Sep 1, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor gives each team a grade after a busy summer in the transfer market.
Sep 1, 2015, 2:09 PM EDT
West Bromwich Albion chairman Jeremy Peace is speaking out on the Saido Berahino saga at the Hawthorns.
Sep 1, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT
Frustrated at Fulham, American teen Emerson Hyndman looks set to stay at Craven Cottage through the final year of his contract.
Sep 1, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT
Hector earned his first six caps for the Reggae Boyz and participated in all three of Jamaica’s matches at the Copa America in Chile.
Sep 1, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
The captain of Algeria, a veteran of Colombia and a Belgian U-21 player are heading to the Premier League side at Vicarage Road.
Sep 1, 2015, 12:35 PM EDT
Young striker is not happy at all as Baggies continue to block Spurs’ advances.
Sep 1, 2015, 12:16 PM EDT
French forward becomes most expensive teenager in world soccer history.
Sep 1, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT
Yedlin joins American prospect Lynden Gooch on the Premier League squad, where Jozy Altidore spent a tumultuous season-and-a-half.
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