Skip to content

It’s too early to discount Spain, but there were some definite warning signs on Sunday

Jun 30, 2013, 10:16 PM EDT

FBL-WC2014-CONFED-BRA-ESP Getty Images

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.

 

Latest Posts
  1. James Rodriguez to be unveiled by Real Madrid on Tuesday, join club for U.S. tour

    Jul 22, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT

    Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates after scoring during the group C World Cup soccer match between Japan and Colombia at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) AP

    22-year-old will complete his $108 million move and be introduced at the Santiago Bernabéu.

  2. Swansea set to sign Sigurdsson, Montero, see Davies, Vorm leave for Tottenham

    Jul 21, 2014, 11:09 PM EDT

    Gylfi-Sigurdsson-Tottenham-vs-Watford_2811248

    A Davies-for-Sigurdsson swap and the purchase of the Ecudorian winger will give Garry Monk a glut of options in attacking midfield.

  3. Yaya Touré, David Silva named to Manchester City’s Champions Cup squad

    Jul 21, 2014, 10:04 PM EDT

    Toure Getty Images

    While six World Cup stars will miss the tour, the Citizens still bring a talented squad to the U.S.

  4. Xavi Hernández reportedly inching closer to New York City FC

    Jul 21, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT

    FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA

    The Spanish midfielder is expected to return to Spain this week to finalize his departure from the club.

  5. ACL surgery ends Hendry Thomas’s season in Dallas

    Jul 21, 2014, 7:58 PM EDT

    hendry_thomas Getty Images

    Honduran midfielder will miss six to eight months.

  6. New report kicks off another round of Las Vegas expansion talk for MLS

    Jul 21, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT

    Las Vegas

    Group is pushing for a $160-$200 million venue, claiming to be on MLS’s “short list.”

  7. Gedion Zelalem getting his chance to impress with Arsenal’s first team

    Jul 21, 2014, 5:22 PM EDT

    Arsenal v Galatasaray - Emirates Cup Getty Images

    The 17-year-old potential U.S. international played along side Aaron Ramsey and About Diaby on Saturday.

  8. PST’s Major League Soccer Player of the Week: Sporting Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber

    Jul 21, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT

    sporting_kc Getty Images

    How does a player who snared four goals in two games miss out? Robbie Keane came up just short.

  9. Qatar/Russia World Cup bidding investigation delayed until September

    Jul 21, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

    interim logo interim logo

    The findings were due in late July, but will have to wait. Will Qatar and Russia hold onto their World Cup hosting duties?

  10. Report: Bayern Munich confirms Julian Green on first team for US trip

    Jul 21, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    Julian Green AP

    Those in New Jersey and Portland could see a whole lot of Julian Green in the next couple weeks.

  11. VIDEO: Steven Gerrard’s top five goals for England

    Jul 21, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    England midfielder Steven Gerrard attend Getty Images

    Relive five of Stevie G’s best goals over his 14-year England career.

  12. WATCH: Arsenal attempts New York accents; Flamini is really bad at it

    Jul 21, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT

    Arsenal will be without defensive stalwart, Mathieu Flamini, for Saturday's match against Liverpool. Getty Images

    An amusing video of NYC accents atop the US national anthem gives Arsenal a victory in viral video.

  13. Who should be England’s new captain? Here’s the top five contenders…

    Jul 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

    England's Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the group D World Cup soccer match between Uruguay and England at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) AP

    Will Wazza take the armband from Stevie G? Not so fast, there are some other chaps to contemplate first…

  14. Liga MX wrap: Red cards a-plenty as road teams shine

    Jul 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    Mexico Soccer AP

    No goals for Americans south of the border, but there was plenty of actions as the 2014 Apertura took its first steps.

  15. Sporting Kansas City declare themselves “greatest team in MLS”… Are they?

    Jul 21, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT

    sporting_kc Getty Images

    What makes an MLS franchise great? Who is the greatest? Is there a right or wrong answer?

  16. Report: Dunga to be named Brazil’s new manager

    Jul 21, 2014, 1:14 PM EDT

    Carlos Dunga

    Former World Cup winning captain to be handed the reins for second time in four years.

  17. Stuart Holden joins NBC crew to call midweek MLS clash

    Jul 21, 2014, 12:59 PM EDT

    Twitter.com/StuHolden Twitter.com/StuHolden

    “Football at Fenway” will have a fine follow-up, as American international Holden joins the doubleheader broadcast of San Jose and Chicago from Buck Shaw Stadium.

  18. Why would Chelsea want to re-sign Didier Drogba?

    Jul 21, 2014, 12:17 PM EDT

    Germany Soccer Champions League Final

    Will Drogba return to Stamford Bridge this summer?

  19. Juventus sign Patrice Evra from Manchester United

    Jul 21, 2014, 11:24 AM EDT

    Evra Getty Images

    Another veteran departs Old Trafford, as Evra signs for Juventus.

  20. Steven Gerrard retires from international soccer after glittering England career

    Jul 21, 2014, 10:29 AM EDT

    England and Liverpool skipper Gerrard is the finest midfielder of his generation Getty Images

    After 14 years playing for the Three Lions, Gerrard calls it quits.