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World Cup 2014: Spain Post-Mortem

 Posted by on June 19, 2014 at 10:55 am  Spain, The Ball is Flat
Jun 192014

Look, I'm not here to bury Spain. No Shakespearean quotes here, but it's time underline their epoch and march them into history. I'm not going to argue if they were the best international side of all time, that's a slippery slope, but this generation of players, this rare breed of personalities that have been able to supersede cultural differences, where Basques, Catalans and Spaniards of every diverse ethnic group, from Madrid or the Canary Islands, have done something that no previous generation in the time of the Republic or the Fascists or even the Movimiento after Franco's death have ever done. They've won two European Championships and a World Cup. They broke the hegemony of the 7: Brazil, Italy, Argentina, Germany, Uruguay, England and France, and introduced themselves to the world. After generations of infighting the players themselves decided to set aside their club differences and play to the strengths of their shared experiences and not what separated them.

That said this is not a eulogy or really even a send-off. Spain are not ready to be sent off to pasture or certainly even the glue factory. This is a country that has continued to produce young players in the youth structures to challenge for cups and trophies to the extent that they have dazzled in the last two U-21 World Cups. It's odd though that successive losses, agonizing losses to the Netherlands and Chile have brought this proud footballing nation to its feet.

Well, no. I called it actually. As much as Vicente del Bosque and his predecessor Luis Aragones changed the fabric of Spanish international football, from talented also-rans to dominant footballing royalty, neither one of them were able to change with the times. Opponents, as they are wont to do, began administering a series of clinics to Spain that were an early warning system: their system of controlled possession and ceaseless high-line pressure was unsustainable considering the players they had retained for it; they got old and their backups weren't tested.

Forwards: David Villa and Fernando Torres were non-starters for their respective teams. Neither was fit enough to track back and support the midfielders. Diego Costa was hurt with an injury that keeps people out for months on end; you might feel fine but those fast-twitch muscled are just not going to fire right for you ina match.

Midfielders: this is where Spain have an abundance of talent from the grandest clubs on the peninsula to the smallest island in the African archipelago. It's the Spanish diet or genetics or what have you, but they produce small midfielders with vision and passing ability to rival any country in the world. So why use players like Xabi Alonso or Xavi Hernandez who are injury prone, and Andres Iniesta and Sergi Busquets who are not at their peak? They have bushels of them.

Defense: you can dump all of these so-called footballers in a lake. Blame Iker Casillas or the lack of fitness from the attack, but none of these guys have been ready all year. Pique has barely played, Ramos is an offensive force for Real Madrid but hasn't been at all sharp as a central defender and Javi Martinez is a converted central-midfielder. None of them are world-class at the moment and they weren't helped by the wing-play of Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba.

Maybe you see the pattern. The problem here is selection. Vicente del Bosque is apparently a very nice man with a genuine affection for his players, his country and the supporters that follow the team. He has a full trophy cabinet and is well-respected by his peers, but more-so than anything I believe it's time to cut the cord. This humiliating defeat and beat-down from  the 2014 World Cup falls squarely at his feet. From organizing training in the mild south of Curutiba knowing that much of their early rounds were going to be played in the hot and humid north should have said something.  Picking out of form and unfit players? Par for the course. Mixing tactics and player selection for players unsuited for them was also a major faux-pas. In the end what we're talking about is the end of and era. Spain are done. For now. Someone else needs to mark their stamp quickly because  they are still extremely talented on the world's stage but those youngsters aren't so young anymore and then well won't b as dry as we thought.


The Ball is Flat

The Ball is Flat is a website and podcast devoted to the Beautiful Game. Football, Futbol, Fusball or whatever you call it, it is the game that divides and unites us. The Ball is Flat's mission is to cover European football with an eye open, the heart in motion, and the brain colored with the right amount of cheerful cynicism. Read more:

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