June 29, 2010
Casillas: does not look good. Was only tested twice, and in both instances appeared hesitant. He's not making the team feel safe right now.
Ramos: his duel with Coentrao was probably the most entertaining aspect of the night. Came close to score twice, but lost his position a bit too often, especially when Spain were already leading and a more calculating approach was required. Great match overall, but still showing his tactical defficiencies.
When Argentinean referee Baldassi blew the final whistle last night in Cape Town, it was hard not to wonder whether we had witnessed another step in the build up of a new Spain, or simply a hardly fought win over an extremely conservative side. The usual World Cup knock out match script for Spain traditionally included several wasted chances (check), overall domination of the flow of the game (check), a below par offensive display by our opponent (check) and a painful defeat after a blatant error by one of our players or the referee (not check! Wait a second!).
Is the best yet to come? After Spain’s unconvincing, however successful display against Chile, the previously dark mood in the Spanish camp swung to the other extreme, and now everyone thinks that Del Bosque’s team can’t leave this World Cup without playing a consistent match for a full 90 minutes. I just hope that Spain’s best match is not their elimination one, as it has often been the case (fingers crossed).
June 28, 2010
The World Cup experience can hardly be restricted to matches, tactical formations and refereeing mistakes (ok, for the English and the Mexicans, it could very well be restricted to the last factor, but you get my point). Once you get to the country in question, there’s just too much stuff going on, and not all of it fits into well-defined football categories. In this post I’ll rank several random topics that I believe to be worth mentioning, from the least cool (thumbs down) to the coolest (four thumbs up, and I’m including both hands and feet here). I’ve already mentioned some of them, so I’ll be quick with those. Let’s start:
June 26, 2010
If you wanted to read different points of view about last night’s match, you’ve come to the right site. Not only you have Phil’s sobering piece after Spain qualified for the last-sixteen round of the World Cup, but you also have the more outsider take of John Brewin’s, who in general terms agrees with Phil, only toning down slightly his verdict on my fellow countrymen.
And now you’ve come to read the most radical, biased of the three, so buckle up. I did not write my summary as soon as I got to the hotel last night because 1) The expression ‘as soon as’ when you try to leave a stadium in this World Cup is a tricky one – it took me 2h30min to get to my hotel, only 9 km away from the stadium, so I might as well have said ‘as late as’ and 2) I wanted to give it a good night of sleep before to put things into perspective.
June 25, 2010
Days go by slowly when your team don’t have a match to play in the World Cup. The routine (a bit of writing, late lunch, watch the 4pm match, write again, try to sneak into Spain’s evening training session, watch the second half of the 8:30pm match, dinner, a few drinks way too cheap to keep them down to just ‘a few’, sleep, start all over again) would make me extremely happy… assuming Spain didn’t have a do-or-die match coming up.
June 24, 2010
If you were wondering which of the two La Roja squads would end up wearing their characteristic red, your answer is the original La Roja, i.e. Chile. Take a look at the picture I just took at Spain's training ground in Potch, in a really sunny day.
June 23, 2010
I’ve told this story before, but it never gets old. Despite some attempts to solve this bizarre situation during the last few centuries, Spain’s national anthem has no lyrics. None. Not even a word. That is why our players stand awkwardly in silence while it’s being played.
Supporters are not that well-mannered, and in the last decade or so, instead of standing quiet looking at the flag (which is what the protocol says, by the way), they decided to sing the melody with one single sound (‘LO’), repeated following the rhythm. Something like ‘Lo-lo-lo-lo-lo…”, you get the point (again, leave a comment for Adam Williamson in the podcast facebook account if you want to hear me sing it).
All in all (Confed Cup 09 + World Cup 10) I have spent enough time watching football in this country to realise of a painful fact: These people aren’t really into football. Ok, I know this is not news to most of you, but after all the hype around ‘Africa organises its first Cup’, I expected locals to be more into the sport.
The most recent example was South Africa’s do or die match against the French yesterday afternoon. I went to watch it in a restaurant close to my hotel in Poch. Huge TV screen, beautiful setting, great food and wine… I got there five minutes after the match started and sat in the best table, right in front of the screen. Let me rephrase it so that it sinks in: I was late for what was arguably the most important football match of the country ever, and got the best table at a fantastic venue. Hardly what happened in ‘Invictus’, as far as I know. At this bar, plenty of people were eating, but no one was watching.
Whenever a team enters into a negative trend (and, like it or not, Spain are not doing that well at the moment), players start to complain and the media begin to make noises. If the situation is not managed properly, the internal atmosphere in the team can rapidly deteriorate, fuelled by the interest of many journalists to increase their audience and ratings, regardless of how good or bad that could be for the side. It is no different with Spain.
June 22, 2010
Yes, I know, I broke my ‘daily post’ commitment after only one day, but I only did it to remind you all of my Latin roots. But don’t worry, I have so much stuff to mumble about that I’m going to split today’s post in two, this first piece including all the football bits, and a second one with plenty of off-the-pitch stuff that should also be interesting to give you a feel of how things work around here.
June 20, 2010
Well, I am finally in South Africa. Arrived in an early morning South African Airways flight, completely packed but with excellent service. The brand new plane was full of fans from everywhere, proudly wearing their respective national team shirt; it was a great way to get into the World Cup atmosphere.
I was lucky enough to sit next to Celina, a Brazilian doctor going to Maputo. (In case you were wondering, yes, she maintained the high aesthetic standards of Brazilian females). I have to say I felt embarrassed to tell her I was going to watch a few World Cup matches after she explained that she works with HIV positive children in several parts of Africa. However, she then admitted that she’ll go to Cape Town to watch Brazil vs. Portugal, and even recognized that she finds CR9 very attractive, which made me realise that we’re all human beings after all.
June 17, 2010
Before we start, allow me to put in print a quick mental note to myself: never forget that you root for Spain, you (expletive) idiot!!
Yes, I got all carried away with our winning streak, Euro08, our apparently endless scoring run, our impossibly talented side, our amazingly consistent bench… and forgot that if 1) this is a World Cup, and 2) I am rooting for Spain, then 3) anything, especially something really painful, is bound to happen at some point.
June 15, 2010
Well, Phil almost got me convinced that we can win this Cup after I read his extremely upbeat article… However, I still keep my fingers crossed 24*7 and feel curses and jinxes coming right and left. Too many WC disappointments, I guess.
In any case, we’ve been expecting this day for months, and it has finally arrived. In less than 24 hours, Spain will face Switzerland in their long awaited debut match in this 2010 World Cup, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t write the usual monster preview. Let’s go ahead!
June 14, 2010
Three quick notes:
1) Iniesta seems fully fit for the first match, as today he trained normally with the rest of his team mates. Therefore, it's quite likely that Del Bosque will start his preferred line-up, with Casillas; Ramos, Puyol, Piqué, Capdevila (and his belly); Xabi Alonso, Busquets; Xavi, Silva, Iniesta; and Villa.
June 12, 2010
The Spanish national team finally arrived in Potchefstroom, the Spaniards being one of the last teams to make it to SA. All my journalistic contacts there agree: the team atmosphere sounds excellent, especially after the 6-0 victory over Poland. The rout of the Polish dissipated some of the doubts this correspondent had about the Spanish side, although some of those concerns still remain.
June 6, 2010
Just under a year ago, right after the end of the group phase of the Confederations Cup, I wrote an Alternative Awards column in which I gave Vicente del Bosque the ‘Garry Kasparov Prize to the Widest Array of Tactical Options’.
June 3, 2010
Spain just finished their second friendly match in preparation for the World Cup. The 1-0 victory over South Korea mantains del Bosque's impressive run (24 wins in 25 matches), but left a few reasons for concern over the real level of fitness of the national team. Let me share my five takeaways with you:
In May of 2008, I started my sports writing career as Spain’s correspondent for soccernet.com. Just weeks before Euro08’s first kick off, La Furia Roja was once again tipped as one of the strongest candidates for the final victory, usually an unmistakeable sign of another upcoming underachievement for us Spaniards.
Eduardo Álvarez has written about Spanish football for Soccernet since Euro 2008 in Austria, where he witnessed a rare Spanish victory. He'll follow the Team Formerly Known as The Armada to South Africa, and will bring you all the news and gossips from the Spanish camp.