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Posted by Eduardo Alvarez on 07/04/2010

Casillas: our match hero, indeed. Let the record show that Cardozo’s penalty kick was Iker’s second full block of the Jabulani in the whole tournament. At the very end of the match he had another key double save, although I should mention that he only needed to reject Santa Cruz’s attempt because he hadn’t grabbed the ball when Cardozo first shot… and he should have. But when all is said and done, we'll remember his penalty kick save, another epic moment to be added to the legend of the Real Madrid keeper, who once again came up big when it was most needed.

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!


Posted by mus on 07/05/2010

My comments on the players.

Cassilas: Did very well with crucial saves. However it is easy to see that he is off form as solid goalkeepers when they spill the ball, they dont spill it to the side that has opponent players. Casillas spilled to paraguayan striker in the last minute but did make a good save.

Ramos: Looked solid but was not able to beat players like he usually does.

Pique: Conceded penalty and I believe he is the one who encroached into the box during xabier alonso first penalty.

Puyol: Looks short on pace and was exposed against haedo valdez.

Capdevilla: Looked good but nothing spectacular.

Busquets: Looked good. Never really noticed him. Covered well during our attacking corners. Busquets and Aloso seem to be doing the same job and one needs to be replaced with fabregas.

Xabi Alonso: Misplaced passes said it all. He is one of the 3 central midfielders who dont move around like iniesta. One team cant have too many of the same players.

Posted by mus on 07/05/2010


Xabi Alonso: Should be replaced with fabregas.

Xavi: He has taken over the mantle of indspensable from Raul Gonzalez. That seems to weigh heavily on his shoulders with misplaced passes. Had one good effort on goal. Another of 3 midfield players who dont make forward runs.

Iniesta: One of the players who strive to make things happen. Always on the move.. Spain needs him at his best. Had a good effort

Villa: A great goal from a great player.

Torres: Seems to have improved from previous games but still a liability.

Fabregas: Always on the move like iniesta. Spain needs to start with him. Barcelona and spain midfield are similar. Barcelona has 2 roving attackers in messi and iniesta. Fabregas can play the role of messi.

Pedro: I had a low opinion of him as someone who scores simply because he is playing for barcelona. He has good off the ball running.

Marchena: Only on for minutes. I would prefer Albiol.

Ed Alvarez: can you score simply because you play for barsa?? ask zlatan...

Posted by mus on 07/05/2010

Del bosque: Afraid to take risks and take off big names. Aragones was more daring and he was rewarded in euro 2008. Formation seems to lack penetration.

Posted by David on 07/05/2010

Puyol and Pique scared me to death in this match. If Puyol is going to look this bad (slow) against a Paraguayan counter-attack, what are the Germans going to do to him?

From what I've seen so far in this tournament, I would start Fabregas ahead of every other midfielder I've seen. Xavi and Iniesta just looked woeful at times last night. Don't get me started on Xabi (who has been one of the better performers for most of the games I'll admit).

Not being at the game, it's hard for me to judge his off-the-ball movement, but from what I saw, Torres did as much as Villa in the first half (not much I grant you). Why? Because the midfield sucked! They seem to prefer giving him the ball to play a hold-up game rather than just playing through balls on the break. I'm not saying Torres deserves to start, maybe he'd be better off the bench for the last 30. But people shouldn't reserve criticism just for him: Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Alonso are equally culpable.

Ed Alvarez: believe me, Torres looked really lost all match long. They tried to find him in open space, but he wasn't just into the match. Even if Spain's midfield wasn't doing well, he's had more than his fair share of chances. Time to change...

Posted by Skip on 07/05/2010

Great analysis. I especially like the Cesc comment about going vertical. Xavi and Iniesta need to think attack more often and quickly. I was at the game and amazed by how wide their team is and how much Spain plays across the field.

Posted by Alex on 07/05/2010

I pretty much agree with your analysis. I guess I'm more optimistic for the game against Germany because what has been the biggest problem for Spain in the World Cup is dealing with physical (to the point of being dirty) teams. Switzerland, Chile, and this past match against Paraguay are prime examples. Portugal were not nearly so physical, and although it took Spain a while to break them down, they never looked much like scoring. The Germans are big and powerful, but they're not dirty.

Understandably, this is the same issue Barcelona have. Inter Milan and Chelsea have been the two teams to really ruffle Barcelona's feathers in the last year and watching John Terry or Lucio try to stop any of Barça's little fast men is like watching an advertisement for pain-kllers. Also, at the time of Spain's goal, there were five Barça youth academy players across the midfield with recent signing David Villa up top and Puyol and Piqué in defense. This Spain is super-Barçaesque.

Posted by SeanP on 07/05/2010

Spain is not prepared for what lays ahead. How they were rated number one and picked to take the World Cup is beyond me. The recalled goal by Paraguay was more proof of the need for cameras as well as the constant diving by the Spanierds. They will not win aginst Germany laying around on the field like they do in most of their games. Stand up and play soccer and quit diving on the is starting to look a little childish.

Ed Alvarez: Sean, they were highly rated after three spectacular years beating every single team in front of them. But the fact is that they are probably at 70% of their capacity, and that makes you suffer in a World Cup. In what regards to the diving... well, my take is a bit different. Spain have the ball for 70% of the match, have suffered some serious and constant fouling, and the refs are too lenient with that )think of Webb against Switzerland or this bloke from Guatemala). IF refs don't protect offensive teams, there'll be only the Mourinho way to win, and that would be depressing...

Posted by Andre on 07/05/2010

Nothing's wrong with a Mourinho win though. Just make sure you do something entertaining after the match and you'll be fine.
Good analysis as usual Ed. Torres is certainly gonna get bench for the Ze Germans but I do feel that is the only change I see happening. Expect more frustration/love for Iniesta miraculous ability not to shoot. Though I have a question, what exactly Silva did (or did not do) to be dropped after the 1st game? It's not like he was the only one that didn't play well vs the Swiss. What even baffles me further is that Don Vicente kept on playing Torres even when he had several bad games.

Ed Alvarez: absolutely nothing wrong with a Mourinho win, agreed. And Silva may be back to the starting line-up sooner than we all expected...

Posted by sp on 07/05/2010

There are "rumors" that Del Bosque will bench Torres in favor of Silva (yes!) or Fabregas. Is there even a minuscule chance that this is true? I don't think I can bear watching another game with Spain limited to 10 men.

Ed Alvarez: yep! Del Bosque defended Torres again during the press conference, but also admitted that 'no one has a guaranteed starting spot'. And Silva did well for himself during the training session. Good stuff...

Posted by newf on 07/05/2010

Eduardo: Yes, vertical and forward, not sideways or back.

Now looking forward (in time not space): Xavi is in charge once the team takes the field and he will conduct the orchestra his way. You can't have the violins playing one tempo and the oboes another.

Who plays and in what role is Del Bosque, is there any chance of a different arrangement for Germany? Let us leave aside the Torres issue for a moment.

Some are calling for Cesc to replace one of the defensive mids. Is that a role he can play?
Does it make sense to go with only Xabi or only Busquets against Germany?

How fast are Xabi and Busquets, can they keep up with Ozil or Muller or Podowlski?

How will Xavi and Xabi match with Schweinsteiger?

Thanks for the insights.

Ed Alvarez: if Van derBolski has left something clear during this Cup, is that those two DMs are not negotiable. If Cesc or Silva start on Wednesday, it will be Torres on the bench.

Posted by Daniel on 07/05/2010

Great blog Ed. One of the few good ones on here.

Though Spain is struggling at the moment, what people fail to mention is how relative their struggling is. They have completed more passes, have had more corners, have had more possession and have had more shots on goal than any other team in the tournament.

The Spanish have really gotten a bad hand with the refs. They have allowed teams to push and be over physical in their games. Howard Webb, as usual, missed a blatant penalty on Silva against the Swiss and he let them hack away.

The ref against Chile was awful and they should have had several players sent off. They hacked away at Alonso. Don't even get me started on the ref against Paraguay. Maybe the worst overall performance at the World Cup from a ref. He was, partially, responsible for Pique committing that indefensible foul on Cardozo. He let the teams get too physical and allowed Paraguay to be way too rough in the game and Pique thought he could get away it.....

Posted by Daniel on 07/05/2010

..... the retaking of Alonso's PK was a blatant make up call and you could tell that the decision was premeditated as he thought he messed up on the PK at the other end. The only explanation for not calling a PK when Cesc got dragged was that the game was too big for him and just couldn't give a third penalty. Inexplicable decision.

He also missed a blatant foul on Iniesta when Andres was dragged down right before the Santa Cruz chance.

If Spain lost this game, the outrage would have been and should have been worse than against South Korea.

Hopefully Spain will get a top European ref from Italy, Portugal, or France who calls a game tight.

Posted by Daniel on 07/05/2010

I actually feel confident about Spain's chances in this game. They have not seen a midfield or defense as good Spain's in this tournament. The one team that had a decent midfield was Ghana and if it wasn't for, typical, Ghanaian finishing they might have gotten a result.

England's midfield was a disaster as Gerrard and Lampard were too high up the pitch and forced Barry to fend for himself, not to mention the school boy defending from Upson and Terry.

Argentina didn't really have a midfield other than Mascherano. They basically played a 4-1-5.

I think Del Bosque's strategy of two holding players might actually be useful in this game. If Germany actually attacks.

I think if Spain win this game they will bring the Cup home. Do you think so as well Ed?

Ed Alvarez: stay tuned for tomorrow's preview!

Posted by valmy on 07/05/2010

I think the battle on the right side (where Sergio Ramos is) will determine the match against Germany. It seems that most of the German's counter-attack is through the German's left (and finished by someone coming from the right side). So playing with 2 defensive midfielders to back-up Ramos seems make sense to me. But at the same time the German's left defense is their weakest chain (Boateng is good, but not fast enough -- Di Maria could get past him several times, and don't forget the Serbian goal)

Still the main battle will take place in the middle, where I think the Spanish midfield is still stronger. Silva should start instead of Torres and let Villa play in the center.

Posted by sp on 07/05/2010

Thought you should know that the famous Psychic Octopus has picked Spain to beat Germany in the semis.

Ed Alvarez: exactly what we needed!! Support from the psychic octopus!!! however, i just checked that piece of info and that was just a hacker wanting Spain to win. The real octopus prediction will only be made public on Tuesday morning. Until then, let's just get our starting line-up fixed, shall we, Del Boski?

Posted by kj on 07/05/2010

i now the preview post is the place for lineup predictions, but based on the performances, i'd love to see iniesta - villa - pedro (or silva) up front with xavi, xabi, and biscuits in the midfield. as soon as xabi or biscuits looks ineffective, bring on fab.

we shall see....but i like pedro out wide. so many barca fans keep crying that pedro doesn't seem dangerous enough to start for barca, but hell, the guy just finds ways to score....let him have a go

Posted by sp on 07/06/2010

Okay, now the octopus really did pick Spain to win.

Ed Alvarez: Bring 'em on!!

Posted by wonderkid1987 on 07/06/2010

Note of caution, Paul the Octopus predicted a German win in Euro 2008 and we all know what happened. Moral of the story, never trust a German Octopus.

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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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