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Posted by Eduardo Alvarez on 06/25/2010

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.

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!


Posted by Aussiebolo on 06/25/2010

Nice work, Edu. You have made me more nervous than I already was by confirming that Alexis Sanchez v Capdevila has the potential to turn into a complete train wreck. I really hope 'el bigotes' reads your comments and plays Arbeloa tommorow. Even Sergio Ramos has his work cut out for him, but at least he has the physical capabilities to keep up (apart from his rib injury). I think if we can score early, we should be ok, but the longer the game goes on the harder it will be...and if chile score first: we are in trouble. (Hello Llorente !).


Posted by Anonymous on 06/25/2010

You Should be worried...

Ed Alvarez: Believe me I am, Anonymous. Not much sleep last night.

Posted by mus on 06/25/2010

Why is capdevilla's name rasheed capdevilla? i thought his name is joan capdevilla

Ed Alvarez: yes, mus, his name is Joan Capdevila (one l). The Sheed thing is a running joke. He reminds me of Rasheed Wallace, as he's trying to play himself into shape for the playoffs, so to speak. No luck so far, unfortunately.

Posted by mus on 06/25/2010

i support spain but i am scared of this chilean side. they are very good. i agree early goal is crucial for us. good that navas is replaced. he was pretty wasteful last match

Ed Alvarez: early or late goal, I am taking any of them.

Posted by Nelzary on 06/25/2010

Agreed with Llorente,

If our forwards could avoid missing the scoring opportunities created spain is on course to top this group

Spain has the ability to create many changes and this will be also obvious in tonights match.

My hope and wish this opportunities are coverted into golden goals

Ed Alvarez: fingers crossed.

Posted by Eduardo J on 06/25/2010

Don't underestimate the might of Humberto Suazo. He is just regaining form, but he is very deadly. By the way, Alexis' surname is Sánchez, not Suárez.

Vamos Chileno!

Ed Alvarez: as far as I know, Suazo won't be playing, tocayo, that's why I did not mention him. And I corrected that already, have been writing about Sánchez for two solid weeks and now I switch his last name with that of a former Tenerife defender. This probably has some meaning...

Posted by edosmerah bin saidin on 06/25/2010

expecting a great game which we will enjoy. I think Chile have some pretty fast players and they will not make things easy for spain..

Posted by Anonymous on 06/25/2010

Yes it the finest Spaniards on the pitch and I hope they will not only move fwd and take the because because then it will be long before they will ever be able to come close

Posted by danny on 06/25/2010

Well, I am really worried and scared about my beloved spain playing against the Mighty "CHILE".
Time and again, the spanish didn't show any sign or play that well like what they did at EURO 2008.
Chile were a bunch of fighter and I honestly believe will pose as the biggest task for spain.

Casillas be ready for more tricky and shots from the Red Hot chilean.

My finger is crossed....spain with some luck and improvement....will win. Maybe 1-0.

Ed Alvarez: 1-0? i'd be happy with 0,5-0...

Posted by kj on 06/25/2010

great points, Ed. really, the team is due for a deadly day in front of goal. so many wasted chances. let's hope this is it.

anyway, after sitting awake already anxious for the match (since 6 a.m.), time to busy myself. thanks for the good reads.

ps. regarding the team nickname. i knew "la roja" was a new invention. i always thought the traditional name was "la furia." any ideas on "la furia" vs. "la armada"?

Ed Alvarez: 'armada' does not sound that good, especially today... let's discuss that later on, shall we?

Posted by Michael4USA on 06/25/2010

Wonderful to read your writing again Mr Alvarez. I just now discovered your Correspondent page (didn't think to look for it until today) and have spent the morning catching up on all your World Cup thoughts. Hopefully La Armada get it done today and we still have at least a few more posts from you.

Ed Alvarez: just read this after the match, Michael. At least four more days to write!

Posted by Megan on 06/25/2010

Good luck Ed - I'm rooting for Spain with all I've got to pull this through. They are on paper the best side in the tournament so I would like to think these top-class players can pull out the win when their backs are against the wall, but that is why they play the game. I'm hearing that Alvaro Albeloa may play instead of sheed. Let's hope that works out. Would also like to see Cesc in there at some point - hope he's not pouting too much - he was so great as a super sub in Euro08. Anyway, fingers crossed.

Ed Alvarez: match review coming up, Megan. Thanks for your message.

Posted by wonderkid1987 on 06/25/2010

The thought of Sanchez nut megging Capdevilla over and over again on the right (left for Rasheed) is something I truly fear for this match. And what if Ramos doesn't take his pills today and pulls out one of his dreadful "It's Ramos time" plays. The ones that make ALL Madridistas cringe in fear and disgust. Man Ed, you're probably in a state :p. Good luck to Spain, hopefully they'll prevail nicely. Hopefully.

Ed Alvarez: it worked out this time, wonderkid. Barely, but it did.

Posted by kj on 06/25/2010

provide some african celebration for us ed....we are toasting la furia ahora in the U.S.!!!!!!!!

Ed Alvarez: the celebration will come tomorrow, kj. i hear Saturday night offers endless possibilities in joburg...

Posted by mus on 06/30/2010

you are great bro ed alvarez.. you reply to every comment :) that is very nice

Ed Alvarez: interacting with readers is always fun!

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Ed Alvarez: does anyone care to explain to me what 'kaebfdg' means?

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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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