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.
Apr 24, 2014, 7:34 PM EDT
Michael Bradley’s sidelined for a week with a “nerve issue” in his foot. He and Jermain Defoe are expected to be ready for TFC’s next game on May 3.
Apr 24, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Tyreso is Leeds. It’s Anzhi, it’s Málaga. And it has a chance to win a European title before potentially closing its doors.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
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Apr 24, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
The PST Extra lads break down United’s options, as the Red Devils prepare for life after Moyes:
Apr 24, 2014, 5:12 PM EDT
A late goal from Benfica gave the Portuguese champions a win over Juventus, while Sevilla impressed at home against Valencia.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT
Valdes on his hatred of being a ‘keeper plus top tips to succeed:
Apr 24, 2014, 3:58 PM EDT
Real Madrid star takes what’s become an obligatory spot for soccer on the list.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT
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Apr 24, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT
This is your Matchweek 35 primer to all the scenarios in the title chase, European qualification and relegation.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Assuming a deal could be worked out, Diskerud’s fluid style of play would fit nicely within the attacking philosophy of Jason Kreis.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:40 PM EDT
Now with Moyes out and Ryan Giggs in as interim manager, the banner has been removed from Old Trafford.
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Apr 24, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
This is all the calm before the storm that will be Manchester United’s summer of 2014.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
If van Gaal is appointed United boss, Jose Mourinho will have some competition for best post-match sound in the 2014/15 Premier League.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
For Chelsea, the Liverpool match represents, well, a headache, apparently.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT
So bad you have to see it. That’s the only was to describe Spain’s official World Cup anthem.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:08 AM EDT
Where, exactly, Moyes’ future lies next is a topic of some debate.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:36 AM EDT
Mariano Pavone’s first half goal in Toluca delivered La Maquina a record-breaking title.
Apr 23, 2014, 11:56 PM EDT
The Red Bulls’ slow start is quickly becoming a distant memory as New York posted a 4-0 win over visiting Houston.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:26 PM EDT
A future star makes a quick impact as Washington puts week one behind them.
Apr 23, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT
Ronaldo pronounced fit; Benzema breaks through, and Casillas stones Götze.
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