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.
May 23, 2015, 12:37 AM EDT
Final: LA Galaxy 1-0 Houston Dynamo
May 22, 2015, 10:31 PM EDT
Final: Columbus Crew 2-2 Chicago Fire
May 22, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT
PSG is willing to dish out the cash to bring Ronaldo to France. The problem? He would have to leave his built-up glory at Madrid behind him.
May 22, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
PST’s Joe-Prince Wright discussed the final relegation battle between Hull City and Newcastle United.
May 22, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Mancini: “If we find players with the right characteristics, we’ll be able to improve the existing players in our squad as well. It won’t be easy….”
May 22, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
Ivory Coast manager Hervé Renard is leaving on good terms and with a new challenge ahead of him at Lille.
May 22, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Mexico will have a roster full of their talent from Europe for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Despite calling himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer, Sepp Blatter didn’t recognize Alex Morgan
May 22, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
FIFA president Blatter called himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer earlier this month, yet he couldn’t recognize one of the biggest stars in the game.
May 22, 2015, 4:40 PM EDT
Preview of Chelsea-Sunderland match on Championship Sunday, available to watch on NBCSN beginning at 10 a.m. ET.
May 22, 2015, 3:54 PM EDT
As usual, several Americans are ready to take the pitch in Europe this weekend.
May 22, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
If the Magpies win they will survive on the final day. Watch them host West Ham live on USA, online via Live Extra, 10 a.m. ET.
May 22, 2015, 2:52 PM EDT
Are the Red Bulls willing to take a risk on Osvaldo to bolster their attacking options?
May 22, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
Can the Tigers pull off a “great escape” on the final day? Watch live on NBC at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday.
May 22, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
The Red Devils boss is confident DDG will be around next season.
May 22, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT
Here’s how and where to watch every PL game on the final day of the season.
May 22, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
In his latest blog, our man in the PL gives us a glimpse of what life is like at Stoke’s training ground.
May 22, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
It’s that time of year again ladies and gents. Get ready for the rumors regarding European veterans heading to MLS.
May 22, 2015, 9:56 AM EDT
The Brazilian defender wants to put the record straight. David, over to you…
May 22, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
After already winning two trophies this season, Chelsea cleaned up once again.
May 22, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT
After Sterling’s agent says his client will not sign a new deal at Liverpool, Reds boss is adamant he will remain at Anfield.
- Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Manchester United 0
- TV SCHEDULE: Premier League finale – 10 games, 10 channels on Championship Sunday 0
- Geoff Cameron takes us behind-the-scenes at Stoke City 1
- Brendan Rodgers insists Raheem Sterling will remain at Liverpool 0
- US Open Cup draw: Sounders-Timbers, NYCFC-NY Cosmos highlight possible 4th-round clashes 1
- Agent: Sterling wouldn’t sign new Liverpool deal, even for $1.4 million a week 6