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.
As some of you know, during the club season I write a weekly column for soccernet.com in which I preview La Liga’s weekend matches and try to guess their results. A full season doing that week after week should have taught me not to take some results for granted, even more when my national team is nicknamed ‘La Armada’ (btw, that ‘La Roja’ stuff is a recent invention from ‘Marca’ with no real tradition whatsoever, plus the added classless touch of having stolen that moniker from the Chilean national team, who call themselves La Roja since the early fifties).
And yet, I digress. Back to the match. What the (expletive) happened against the Swiss? Let’s analyse the main reasons behind the most shocking result of this World Cup so far:
1) Del Bosque forgot his tactical options. Well, he did at least until Switzerland scored. Two months ago, it looked quite obvious that our gaffer would use a) a single defensive midfielder and two strikers against the most defensive teams (and I believe we’ll all agree that the watch-makers were as defensive a team as it can possibly get), and b) two defensive midfielders and one single striker against the most offensive ones. However, at some point over the last few preparation matches Del Bosque decided to stick to the most conservative formation no matter which team was in front of us. Today, there was no need for Busquets AND Xabi Alonso, but the team did need someone helping Villa against Hitzfeld’s back four. Del Bosque only reverted to the offensive structure 15 minutes into the second half. And when he reacted, his choice of striker was Torres, which takes me to point 2.
2) Torres does not look fit at all. I have been making fun of Capdevila since this blog started, and rightfully so. Just take a look at today’s tape whenever he’s close to any other Spanish player and you’ll agree with me. His belly is so blatant that it would be funny if he weren’t the starting left back of my national team. But Torres did not appear in much better shape than ‘Sheed against the Swiss. His three or four interactions with the ball were embarrassing to say the least, and just by his body language on the pitch, he agreed with my evaluation. In my preview of the match, I wrote that he should play if things were going ok, but in case of trouble, Llorente should get the nod. We would have been better off with an imposing target among the Swiss centre backs than with Torres, who, when in shape, excels with plenty of space to run.
3) Most starters are far from his best shape. Let’s forget about Sheed and supersub Torres (yes, I'm being sarcastic) for a second. During the first half, the Swiss won most 50/50 balls, and looked to arrive to the key spots one split second before our players. That slowness prevented Spanish players to get into scoring positions at least three times in the first half. But we saw the real tiredness of the starters during a Swiss counter-attack in the 20th minute of the second half (still 25 to go for those of you unfamiliar with football rules). They just couldn’t track back. Not a good sign for the upcoming matches.
4) The tiqui-taca has gone too far. The recently deceased Andrés Montes, an unforgettable (sometimes a pure genius, sometimes simply unbearable) play by play voice in Spanish TV, coined this ‘tiqui-taca’ expression to describe the continuous flow of passes that has become the identity of this team. It is fantastic to watch them play like that, but at several instances today they seemed to have forgotten that you have to shoot if you want to score. Silva and Iniesta were particularly guilty of that. Del Bosque needs to review the side’s decision making when getting closer to the opposition’s goal.
5) Mr. Casillas. Spain wouldn’t have lost, and therefore would be in a much less agonizing situation, had Iker gone for that ball using his upper body, and not his feet. I have watched that play more times than Cesc’s penalty kick against Italy (ok, that was a lie), and I still don’t understand what went through his mind. Simply awful.
So what now? Well, Spain will play against Honduras next Monday in Johannesburg, and I will be there in person to see what transpires. After watching the hondureños’ defeat vs. the real La Roja, I am taking for granted that Del Bosque will go back to the single defensive midfielder formation next Monday, which should help. However, he still needs to realistically assess which players are in match shape and probably make some tough decisions. He should go back to basics, but maintaining the offensive approach that has worked so well up to now.
On Monday, Spain desperately need a victory, and by the widest margin possible, to enter into the final day of the group phase with their hopes intact.
But in the meantime, all our ghosts are back. And they are a quite ugly bunch, by the way.