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.
Aug 27, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Reports across Europe claim that Xabi Alonso has reached an agreement with Bayern Munich.
Aug 27, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
“The hardest thing is knowing when to say goodbye,” Xabi Alonso said.
Aug 27, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
Balotelli aims big as new Liverpool signing speaks out.
Aug 27, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
Guardiola gives Muller a piece of his mind during Bayern’s open practice session.
Aug 27, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
Fazio heads to White Hart Lane on four-year deal from Sevilla.
Aug 27, 2014, 1:14 PM EDT
As conflict continues between Israel, Hamas, UEFA has stepped in to postpone qualifier.
Aug 27, 2014, 12:32 PM EDT
Following United’s embarrassing 4-0 defeat to a third-tier team, the UK media have not been kind.
Aug 27, 2014, 12:01 PM EDT
Soccer in Sin City… why not? Stadium deal gets over next hurdle, hinges on MLS team heading to Nevada.
Aug 27, 2014, 11:22 AM EDT
All the latest transfer gossip, right here.
Aug 27, 2014, 9:42 AM EDT
After Oliver Giroud’s bad injury, will Arsenal spend big to bring in Cavani?
Aug 27, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT
Have your say on where van Gaal’s side will finish this campaign.
Aug 27, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT
Eagles swoop to hand former boss his second stint in charge at Selhurst Park.
Aug 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Milan want Torres on season-long loan deal. Will the Spaniard move on?
Aug 27, 2014, 7:18 AM EDT
Experienced lower league manager set for second stint in charge of Palace.
Aug 27, 2014, 1:02 AM EDT
Red Bulls win their full tournament debut, while Club Améric takes a valuable point on the road.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT
The rankings have had a big four — LA, RSL, Seattle, and Sporting. That group makes way for two new teams at the top of the PRs.
Aug 26, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Three-time Champions League winner adds depth to Roberto Martínez’s attack.
Aug 26, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
United boss asks fans to withhold judgment on his team’s disappointing start.
Aug 26, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT
Red Devils hit a new low, with three other Premier League clubs bowing out in the competition’s second round.
Aug 26, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT
BATE Borisov and APOEL Nicosía are also into the group stage, with the five final spots to be decided tomorrow.
- $410 million Las Vegas soccer stadium deal closer; next stop, Major League Soccer… 4
- Report: Arsenal bid $82 million for Edinson Cavani. Remy, Falcao, Welbeck linked 8
- Confirmed: Neil Warnock takes over at Crystal Palace; what will he bring? 0
- PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Whole New World Edition 1
- Samuel Eto’o signs two-year deal with Everton 0
- League Cup Roundup: Manchester United embarrassed by Milton Keynes, 4-0 13