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.
Mar 12, 2014, 10:04 AM EDT
It’s hard to imagine another player at United seizing the captaincy, but how about England?
Mar 12, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
“The biggest way you can tell that right off the bat is training,” Parkhurst said.
Wambach scores twice as US women end disappointing Algarve Cup with win over North Korea, 7th place finish
Mar 12, 2014, 8:53 AM EDT
With the victory, the U.S. avoided going winless in four consecutive games for the first time since 2001.
Mar 12, 2014, 8:31 AM EDT
PST’s own Joe Prince-Wright is slated for an exclusive interview with Krueger later this morning, so keep it tuned here.
Mar 12, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT
“If you lose, don’t start complaining about silly things,” Robben said.
Mar 12, 2014, 7:28 AM EDT
Champions League injury forced German midfielder off at halftime, will have Ozil out of lineup.
Preview: Barcelona, Manchester City stumble into Champions League second leg; PSG set to rest Ibrahimovic
Mar 12, 2014, 6:09 AM EDT
Barcelona carry a two-goal lead into Wednesday’s visit from City, while PSG’s four-goal edge has Laurent Blanc set to rest his stars.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:23 AM EDT
A 95th minute goal from Alan Gordon gives San Jose momentum ahead of next week’s second leg.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:54 PM EDT
Last year’s MLS Cup qualifiers start the season 1-2 in our rankings.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
Gunners prospect could soon be locked into an international career with Germany.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:56 PM EDT
Champions League was Milan’s last battle. Now, two months of auditions for next year’s team begin, with Seedorf decide who will return for the Rossoneri’s restart.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:06 PM EDT
Over the course of two legs, Arsenal was outshot 41-15 and had only 27 percent of the ball.
Mar 11, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Legacy didn’t matter, Costa is ready for your love, and Atlético improved but imperfect.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Another sickening blow for Holden, who suffers knee ligament damage after latest comeback game goes horribly wrong:
Mar 11, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
With the Gunners falling at the first UCL knockout hurdle once again, what did we learn this time?
Battling Arsenal bow out, as Bayern Munich reach UEFA Champions League quarters after 1-1 draw (3-1, agg.)
Mar 11, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
Defending champions Bayern down Gunners to reach quarterfinals of Champions League:
Mar 11, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
With seven goals in five Champions League games, Costa has led Atlético into the quarterfinals.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
Three Vancouver Whitecaps, three Columbus Crew take their place in the first week’s Best XI.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
Japanese youngster traveled with squad to Munich… then Arsenal found out he was ineligible:
Mar 11, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Nick Rimando snared the league’s honor, but the Dancing Bear claims PST’s first weekly award.
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