Ramos: ‘Crazy Horse’ is improving with every passing match. He’s probably the player in best shape of the starting eleven. All those rumours about his club’s interest in Maicon appear to be having an impact (positive, of course) on his performances.
Pique: hard to overlook his stupid and blatant penalty, which could have cost Spain the match, and therefore, the elimination. It wasn’t his only loss of concentration: at the end of the first half, he surprisingly decided to join the offence in open play, leaving Puyol by himself with Valdez, who was wasteful, fortunately. During the rest of the match, Pique was consistent in the air and Spain’s best option to start playing from our own back four in a particularly poor night of passing from the whole team, but the clear fact is that Casillas saved his bottom. Even though he’s not been for that long playing at this level, this type of mistake is not acceptable.
Puyol: suffered with the size and speed of the Paraguayan strikers all match long. Either it was Cardozo winning the aerial battle against him, or Valdez leaving him behind in one-on-one situations. He gave Spain his usual dose of effort and dedication, but, like Torres, he needs to be 100% fit to perform at his best, and he’s not quite there.
Capdevila: without adding to much on the offensive front, this was his best match of the tournament by far. Some awkward, but effective pieces of defending, didn’t misplaced a single pass and was well positioned all match long. Now we can say that Rasheed Capdevila has finally played himself into shape for the playoffs!
Xabi Alonso: simply catastrophic first half. Missed more passes in the first 45 minutes of this match than in the previous 360 minutes of this World Cup. However, Xabi started off much better in the second half, got some momentum going, gave a beautiful through pass to Villa to be fouled for a penalty kick, and then… well, you all saw what happened.
The selection of Xabi Alonso as a penalty taker baffled me and my neighbours in the stands. He’s never been such a consistent one (remember the Champions League final against Milan?), and I can’t understand the reasoning behind not choosing Villa. Despite his previous miss against Honduras, El Guaje’s track record is absolutely amazing. Well, Alonso scored, then missed after the referee told him to take it again, and was shortly after replaced by Del Bosque (a harsh thing to do by the gaffer, I thought). His look of relief after the match ended and Spain secured the win was quite telling.
Busquets: not as solid as in previous matches, three of his tackles and two of his coverages when Ramos went up were key to keep the Paraguayans at bay. His tactical sense is second to none.
Iniesta: extremely inconsistent. ‘El Ilusionista’ presented us with three or four slick dribbles and built the play that led to Spain’s goal, but, just like his previous match, was shockingly wasteful with his passing, and his decision making was clearly off. He suffered with the Paraguayans’ roughness when playing with his back to their goal. At the end of the match, he said that he’s feeling better with every passing match, so let’s hope we’ll see him at his best against Germany.
Incidentally, Iniesta won Man of the Match from FIFA, one more flabbergasting decision for this prize. In any case, he’s one of those players who can change the sign of a match with a single play… and he did it.
Xavi: very similar to Iniesta, our biggest playmaker on paper only got going during short spells of the match. Erratic passing, ill-advised decision-making, lack of that extra bit of energy to get to the ball first… It’s not a question of positioning anymore: he couldn’t deal with the physicality of Paraguay’s midfield, and struggled to keep up with a full 90 minutes. Spain need much more from him.
Villa: Del Bosque decided to start with him and Torres paired up as two strikers, but after only ten minutes the gaffer asked Villa to go to the left-hand side. Again, that position demands too much from him physically, as he has to track back to help Capdevila. Because of his effort, he was not as fresh as he should have to get into scoring positions. When Torres was replaced, Villa participated more, scored and had another chance to kill the match. He’s calmness in front of the goal is staggering. Let’s hope he finishes this World Cup the way he deserves…
Torres: his positives last night included a meagre two runs at defenders finished in extremely poor fashion. His negatives? Well, loads of them. At times looked disinterested (surprising, after having seen him train), although Xavi and Xabi were clearly making an effort to look for him during the first half hour. In other plays he just showed that he’s not well adapted to the way the team play right now. It took too long for Del Bosque to replace him, and when he did, the team improved almost instantly. The Professor from Salamanca should reflect on this situation. Like Phil wrote after the match, with Torres on the pitch, Spain play with 10. We’ve been lucky to get away with this so far, let’s just not tempt our luck for one more match.
Cesc: there are two main differences between the Arsenal playmaker and his theoretical rivals for a starting spot, Xavi and Iniesta. First, Cesc is much more vertical. Whenever he receives the ball, his first instinct is going forward, which is something this team desperately needs. And second, he’s fully in shape. Even though he didn’t appear much last night, those two reasons should grant him an automatic start.
Pedro: another example of how rich our bench is… or maybe of how out of shape our starters are. Just as he stepped on the pitch, Pedro had a refreshing impact on the side, went forward, hit the post, gave a gorgeous ball to Villa – who couldn’t finish it – and helped the team to keep the ball when required. His movement and work rate are stunning when compared with that of some of our starters.
Marchena: didn’t play enough to get a comment, but this match will indeed count to keep his streak alive. Marchena has played in 54 consecutive matches for Spain without a single defeat.
Del Bosque: the fact that he started Torres can only be put down to El Niño’s good training week and to the gaffer’s will to support an important player in the team. Once it was painfully blatant that the Liverpool striker wouldn’t help the side, he should have replaced him (meaning at least 30 minutes before Del Bosque actually did it). On the positive side, his first two substitutions (Cesc in for Torres, Pedro in for Xabi) configured a side that reminded that of Aragonés during Euro08: tiny midfield, quick passing, and faster counter-attacks. It worked well.
Not many of Spain’s starters enjoyed a good match. Most looked already exhausted by the end of the first half, as though the continuous tackle and hustle from the Paraguayans were too much for them to bear. Well, guess what. The Germans are coming, and if you remember how powerfully they finished his game against Argentina, we should be concerned.
Del Bosque’s shown he’s reticent to introduce radical changes to the side during the tournament, as it was the case back when he coached Real Madrid. I understand that playing the same starting eleven builds up some advantages, like seamless understanding between players and defensive helps that work better. But there’s not that much gas in the tank of this line-up, and we have excellent options to instil some life in this team anxiously waiting for their chance on the bench.
It’s time to take some risks, Señor Delbosky. A World Cup final is a worthy price!