But my country’s national team put their World Cup future at stake after their defeat at the hands of Switzerland, and now the final match against Chile can’t arrive early enough for me. So let’s go ahead with the preview of this match to get the atmosphere going and eliminate some of the toxins and negative karma my impatience is filling my body with.
We’ll do it different this time. I’ll borrow some consulting jargon from my good friend Otroyo, a great guy to get advice from, but an absolute disaster with his personal life, and in the following thousands of lines I’ll try to identify the Key Success Factors (KSF) for Spain to succeed in this key match and make it to the last sixteen round.
KSF1: Win the midfield battle. Most people unfamiliar with Chile’s current side believe that Spain will monopolise ball possession tomorrow. Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Iniesta, etc are top class midfielders, their passing is masterful and will very likely have the Chileans running after the ball for most of the match.
However, if we believe Chile’s gaffer Marcelo Bielsa, ‘we will try to have more possession than Spain and our aim will be to win the match’, even though they only need a draw to make it to the last eight. And actually, I do believe Bielsa’s words. His side have been playing offensive football consistently for the last year and a half. Not many teams manage to succeed against their pressure and fast counter attack, a style that reminds of Juande Ramos’ Sevilla of the 2006-07 seasons.
My colleague Ernesto Garrido, who’s covering Brazil’s matches for soccernet during the World Cup, told me about Chile’s almost suicidal approach when they faced Brazil in Salvador for the South American qualifiers: the Chileans kept attacking Brazil non-stop, which is probably a mistake against the current version of the verde-amarela. They ended up losing 4-2, but impressed Ernesto with their courage.
According to most sources, Del Bosque will stick to the formation that defeated Honduras, with only one variation: Iniesta will replace Jesús Navas. The message is clear: ball possession matters. Let’s hope ‘El Ilusionista’ is fully recovered from his muscular issues. He’ll be key to support the Xs and Busquets against Chile’s hard-working midfield.
KSF2: Convert ball possession into goals. Other than the awkward atmosphere within the team, this has been the main issue with Spain’s performance in the Cup, and both factors may very well be related. The Spaniards have enjoyed more than 65% of possession in their first two matches, lead the tournament stats in shots on goal… but have only scored twice. Even keeping in mind that Fernando Torres isn’t totally recovered (quite an understatement, that one), and that some of Spain’s best offensive players haven’t found their inspiration yet, this team always discovered paths to find the opposition’s goal.
The challenge can hardly be tougher: the Spaniards will have to recover their scoring touch against the best defence of the tournament so far. Chile have conceded no goals and only suffered three shots against the excellent Bravo. Ok, I know they played against Switzerland and Honduras, hardly two attacking outfits, but still. Defender Medel stated on Wednesday, ‘We don’t have that much work at the back because opposing players get to us exhausted when they manage to beat our midfielders’ (see KSF1). He’s been modest, as him and Ponce have played some impressive defence so far.
KSF3: Contain Chile’s wingers. Have you seen any of Chile’s matches? Their wingers / forwards work tirelessness, opening up space and torturing the opposing full backs for the whole 90 minutes.
Several Chileans use the sides of the pitch masterfully. Let’s start with my biggest worry: Alexis ‘Niño Maravilla’ (Wonder Boy) Sánchez, Udinese’s promising star, is anarchical and selfish, but has sparks of genius, is fast and absolutely vertical. Despite being a forward, he enjoys falling to the right side of the pitch to start his offensive moves. His match-up with Rasheed Capdevila has potential to become as damaging to Spain as myself and my rented, right-hand wheel, shift-gear Kia Picanto to traffic safety in South Africa, and believe me, that is saying a lot.
Beausejour (América from México), Chile’s starting left winger, scored their goal against Honduras with some luck, but showed enough tricks to trouble Sergio Ramos. If that was not enough, gaffer Bielsa trained today with Mark Gonzalez, another classy winger with a long career during which expectations were always higher than delivery, as a starter, pushing Beausejour to a more central role.
Assuming that Bielsa modifies his line-up like in that manner, Sergio Ramos will probably have to deal with several players taking turns to come at him, a strong test for the madridista’s tactical acumen (and not a test for which my heart is ready at all, by the way) which will demand copious support from the centre backs and the defensive midfielders. And to add insult to a slight injury, Ramos did not train yesterday to rest his aching back. Just brilliant.
Honestly, I would not be surprised if Del Bosque ends up using Alvaro Arbeloa as left or right fullback to keep the Chileans under control.
KSF4: Del Bosque needs to take the initiative tactically. Not the shrewdest of coaches when it comes to altering the dynamics of an on-going match, Del Bosque faces Marcelo Bielsa v2.0, which is a more matured, wise version of the gaffer who failed with Argentina in 2002. Spain’s coach will have to be at his best so that Spain determines the rhythm of the match, instead of reacting to the various tricks Bielsa will have indeed prepared for this encounter.
KSF5: Ignore what happens between Switzerland and Honduras. If you want me to summarise all of the outcomes combining the potential results of both matches, I’ll be concise: everything is possible. Even mighty Honduras could make it to the last sixteen if they beat Switzerland by a three-goal margin and Spain lose to Chile. Bielsa himself made a remark about this topic in today’s press conference: ‘When you start playing with possibilities, you end up losing matches’.
Spain’s whole focus has to be in their match. A win would be enough and that is what they have to do tomorrow.
Well, time to try to get some sleep, although it won’t be easy. I don’t think I am being hyperbolic when I say that, tomorrow, the most gifted generation of footballers my country ever produced have the chance / obligation to prove their worth at the world’s biggest stage.
Those of us who care just a little too much about football see this match almost like a last chance. I know that most players in this side are still young, but I doubt we will ever have a similar group of men with this level of quality and talent at this stage of their careers.
We need to win tomorrow. Many of us need them to win tomorrow.
A por ellos!