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.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:20 PM EST
It’s a vibrant and informative take on the big following in Seattle, one that even Sounders haters can respect for its size, dedication and creativity.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:35 PM EST
Top Four and Bottom Three match-ups take the battle for Premier League places to a different level this weekend.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Where and how to watch all the PL games during Week 13.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:52 AM EST
Hull City is looking for a historic win when they visit surging Manchester United on Saturday.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:01 AM EST
We pick three clubs in three countries that could be a landing spot for the out-of-favor Sunderland striker in the January transfer window.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:10 AM EST
The Baggies are coming off losses to Chelsea and Newcastle, and are four points back of eighth place Arsenal. The NBCSN match kicks at 745am ET.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:37 AM EST
Spain (4) and Germany (3) are the only nations with multiple members.
Nov 28, 2014, 8:35 AM EST
Manchester United’s legendary midfielder will stay in his assistant coach role for Ireland, spend more time with his family.
Nov 28, 2014, 7:58 AM EST
Vice Sports writer Kevin Koczwara has the story of Alston’s fight with chronic myelogenous leukemia.
New England Revolution, 90 minutes from MLS Cup, must simply avoid second-leg disaster vs. Red Bulls
Nov 27, 2014, 11:15 PM EST
It’s been a long time since the New England Revolution lost by mulitple goals, which the New York Red Bulls must achieve to reach MLS Cup 2014.
Nov 27, 2014, 9:26 PM EST
The big Europa League sides have begun to advance to the knockout round, with a few more very close to joining them.
Nov 27, 2014, 4:09 PM EST
Toffees seal spot in Europa League knockout rounds after terrific away day display.
Nov 27, 2014, 3:17 PM EST
Three FIFA ExCo members and German legend latest to be under the spotlight.
Nov 27, 2014, 2:05 PM EST
Brazilian legend hospitalized for second time this month.
Nov 27, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
Whelan charged by FA over accusations of anti-Semitic, racist remarks.
Nov 27, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Spanish giants drop Christian symbol as they link up with Abu Dhabi based bank.
Nov 27, 2014, 10:55 AM EST
Can Spurs and Everton make a top four charge? Will Saints stun Man City?
Nov 27, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
Watch the incident unfold, as Brazilian striker is behind bars.
Nov 27, 2014, 9:13 AM EST
Wilshere has surgery on left ankle, as young midfielder set for another lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:51 AM EST
Bradley opens up about his first season at Stabaek, his future in Europe and much more.
- Top Five storylines for Week 13 of the Premier League 0
- WATCH: Premier League TV schedule – Week 13 0
- Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Hull City 0
- Sure there’s “interest throughout Europe”, but where is the best spot for Jozy Altidore? 1
- Pick just three?!? FIFPro World XI midfielder shortlist is Juve-heavy, really good 0
- VIDEO: PST Extra examines huge top four showdowns in Premier League 0