Saturday, June 14, 2014

The foretold fall from grace

All great teams fall from grace. Some people did not believe it would happen to Spain, but it had to. Perhaps the greatest surprise was that it would happen in such a way that it happened, getting hammered 1-5 by the Netherlands, whose revenge for the defeat in the 2010 final could not have been sweeter.
But looking at Spain's defense it was perhaps not so surprising. We have to admit that while Pique, Ramos and Albiol are good players, none of them are certainly not world class players. The genius of Spain's defense in 2008, 2010 and 2012 was Carles Puyol. Without him they are barely strong enough to withstand world class players. Teams like Brazil and Argentina must have been watching with delight. Pique and Ramos' weaknesses were particularly exposed in Robben's goals, where they proved to be slow and in wrong position. 
When the best goalkeeper in the world fails, it is a recipe for disaster, and that is what happened. He may not be at his best, and this is surely a cold shower, but Casillas has been the best goalkeeper in the world.
With the weak defense the Dutch team under Van Gaal did the right thing against the by-now predictable tiki taka. High pressure on the Spanish midfield and strike quickly. By the third goal (which was a free kick to Casillas) what happened to Spain was what happens to all great sides that have not faced adversity before: they fall apart. This included Del Bosque's changes, which seemed more of desperation than any tactical calculation.
Van Gaal again proved to be a genius, and Manchester United fans must be delighted at what lies ahead.

Of course the World Cup is not over for Spain, despite this heavy blow (never before has a World Champions been trounced this way). In 2010 they also opened with a defeat to Switzerland. But back then the problem lay in bad luck and underestimation, and that match proved to be crucial. I am not sure this match will be the same; there are structural weaknesses in an ageing side (Koke is the youngest player in the squad at 22). The match against Chile will be excellent. The Chileans will try to capitalize on the obvious Spanish weaknesses, while Spain needs to show that the 1-5 was a fluke.

I only watched first half of the match before I had to board a plane. I have watched second half online now, and will now be fully dedicated to the World Cup!

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