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Posted by Eduardo Alvarez on 06/17/2010

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.

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.

Comments

Posted by BenX1332746 on 06/17/2010

I think I myself am slightly guilty of taking it for granted they would score at some point as for the first half I was just enjoying their tiqui-taca perhaps a little too much before I realised they'd better score soon if I am not to lose my (very small) bet, and before you know it the Swiss had scored and the best you could hope for was a draw! They should be alright to win the rest of their games in this group, possibly a battle-for-top-spot with Chile at the end. Fully agree with you re Iker, he went with his feet twice in that play. Gave away a penalty too, surely, if Swiss hadn't scored any way. (though it would've been a long advantage play to call back)

Posted by Japa on 06/17/2010

The Swiss seemed to play quite narrow defensively and dare Spain to go wide and cross. Even if they went for width by playing Navas and Pedrito, I think Spain will have difficulties playing against taller center backs in this defensive posture.

If I recall correctly, this is exactly what the US did last year in the Confederations Cup.

Posted by TonyinKenya on 06/17/2010

Immediately after the Swiss game I thought, now is the time the Spanish finally laid to rest the ideas of jinxes and ghosts. No team has the "exclusive" rights to win the World Cup - not Brazil, Italy, Germany or Argentina. Now, the test of character will prove whether this magnificent Spanish team will rise up and win the World Cup even after this set-back and I believe it can. Mental strength is what it takes to be a winner and this current team is made of winners.

Posted by sam on 06/17/2010

Nice blog Eduardo! Thank you!

I am Japanese, living in Chile, so I assume you know who I root for in Group H.

I have a lot of respect for Spain NT and watching the Swiss match, I feel everything went wrong for your Armada. I also agree that the conservative aproach by the manager was a mistake, as many other "big guns" have shown in this first stage, ie. the "NOT to lose" approach.

The WC has just started and I know that the Super Talented Teams, including Spain, will show what they are really made of in this second week. Uruguay and Argentina (just now) proved my point and expect France to do the same.

A Swiss squad filled with ego and an injured Spain is not the best scenario for Chile, but it will force everyone to put up with a great spectacle. And that is what we were all waiting for as fans!

I am sure Spain will move on, hopefully, for me, together with Chile. The party has just begun!

Salud a todos! and may the beauty of football prevail!

Posted by wonderkid1987 on 06/17/2010

Only in Spain would you blame a mixture of poor goal keeping, poor defending and lack of covering on Casillas' girlfriend. She is quite pretty though. With that said, Ed, this honestly shouldn't be a shock though. Spain has a wonderful habit of being rather Spain when you truly need them. That and I saw no real purpose why VDB had to play Busquets and Alonso together. Alonso could do everything Busquets does by himself. And is Iniesta immune to shooting from outside the 18 yard box?! He always gives himself that lil yard of space to crack one but always waits for another option or continue dribbling. Some call that being unselfish but for an attacking midfielder, he should do better.

Posted by Simo on 06/17/2010

Losing in the groups gives the team an opportunity to confront the pressures of defeat in the tournament before it becomes final and finite. Spain will be a stronger team for it.

So, pretend its the future, the final, spain are behind against... (INSERT TEAM) having won every game on their way here. They havent been losing before, they dont know what to do. the manager makes a wrong decision. and the team is panicking (last 20 mins of swiss game??: ""kick it to Navas"").

Except its this. They damn well better now know/learn what to do, or del bosque will tell them in no uncertain terms. Yes, they lost to switzerland, and yes, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but looking on the bright side its good for Spain in he context of the tournament. they will still qualify.

Honduras would do well to lie down and roll over on Monday.

Posted by James08771 on 06/17/2010

Hi Eduardo,

I love your weekly quiniela articles and I am thrilled to see you continuing your cunning analysis for the Spanish NT. I wholeheartedly agree with your entire analysis of this epic disaster. Although, I would like to know what you make of the performance of Jesus Navas. I personally thought that, while he provided a burst of energy on the right, his crossing and finishing were horrid. I think that had his deliveries in the 18 been a bit more accurate, things would be completely different. As well, I hate to say this being a Barca fan but I think Fabregas may have been a better option as opposed to Pedro. While Xavi is surely the master locksmith, Cesc can help out with the creativity and he also brings what I consider a complete game. As you said, there was no need for both Xabi Alonso and Busquets against Spain. I would have been happy to insert Fabregas along with a DM and then bring in Llorente and Navas to replace Silva and the injured Iniesta.

Keep it up!

Posted by Javier Almonacid on 06/20/2010

Regards from Colombia Eduardo. Perhaps the result of spain, I hope you are enjoying the world cup. My favorite: Neatherland. I think with Honduras is Easy cake, but in this world cup everything can happen. See you in Madrid on september.

Posted by Daniel Deniz on 06/21/2010

Hi Eduardo,

i enjoyed reading your weekly article.As a long suffering spanish supporter living in Australia i was very bemused by the line up sent out by Vicente Del Bosque, it just amazes me that he continues to over look Cesc Fabregas, his creativity is second to none and instead finds a spot for 2 defensive midfielders in Xabi Alonso and Busquets.
Two years ago Spain were very attack minded in winning the euro championship and went with the two strikers up front. Spain continues to over use the ball and every time they win a corner they always chose to go short and seem to mess up a great opportunity from a set piece.
Its time Del Bosque sends out a team to attack including using 1 of the best attacking midfielders in the world in Fabregas and take the load of David Villa by playing Fernando Torres up front with him. Using these 2 world class strikers together will cause more then a headache for the over stretched Honduran defence!
I have no doubt Spain will back
Viva Espana

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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.

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