Saturday, 14 June 2014

Spain suffer not just a defeat but a World Cup disaster against Holland

Spain’s game has been about control for six years but here they lost it. The questions will be relentless, just like the Dutch
Spain v Holland
Andrés Iniesta, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fábregas look shellshocked as Spain
 are beaten 5-1 by Holland. Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
This time it probably was worth saying. A minute after the final whistle went, the stadium announcer at the Arena Fonte Nova followed a new trend from this World Cup and declared: “The final score was Netherlands 5, Spain 1.” Normally it is redundant message but here it seemed meaningful somehow: Yes, five.
Holland had got what the Spanish describe as a manita, a little hand: a goal for each finger. This was the worst defeat a defending champion had ever suffered at the World Cup and it was the first time Spain had conceded five at the tournament since they were last in Brazil, 64 years ago.
At the final whistle Daryl Janmaat fell to the turf and kissed it, lying there in disbelief. This was astonishing, barely believable. Four years ago, Holland had lost the World Cup final to Spain. Now, they had humiliated them. They had scored five; they could have scored more.
The Spanish goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, made two stunning saves in the dying minutes that will not bring redemption for what went before and Robin Van Persie smashed another shot against the bar. By the end, they had taken 13 shots.
Towards the finish, the Dutch were an unstoppable tide; the blue shirts just kept coming forward for more. Olés were their sound track but they were not satisfied to simply pass the ball, to keep it: they wanted to go on plunging the knife in, insatiable, almost sadistic. There was something about the goals, especially the fifth from Arjen Robben, that spoke of an immense superiority. Holland were enjoying this.
“Often you go quiet after two or three goals but we went on, and on, and on,” Van Persie said. It was no exaggeration: chances were wasted and more chances were made, more and more of them.
Spain offered virtually no resistance. They looked broken, powerless, unable to do anything to palliate the beating, just look forlornly at the clock and will it to run down. They had lost and they were lost. And that may be the point.
Spain were defeated in the opening game four years ago and still won the tournament, having topped their group. But this was different: that day Spain were unfortunate against Switzerland, here they could not blame bad luck. A defeat need not have been the end of the World Cup – Spain could have reasonably expected to go through anyway, maybe even to win the group and thus avoid Brazil – but a defeat like this must surely be damaging.
Next up, Chile. Spain must recover physically and emotionally. There will be tactical and technical questions to address too, and many of them.
As Janmaat hit the floor, Spain’s players turned and headed down the tunnel in silence. Casillas’s face said it all, a picture of impotence to accompany each goal. The Spain captain knew that his culpability was inescapable too. Van Persie’s superb header caught Casillas off his line. The third was a delivery from Wesley Sneijder that, however much Spain appealed for a foul, he misjudged. The fourth came when he failed to control a back pass, allowing the ball to slip into the space between him and Van Persie. As he flung himself at it to clear, all he did was send the ball into Van Persie’s legs, who sent it into Spain’s net.
Before this game Casillas and Xavi Hernández appeared before the media, captain and vice-captain, symbols of the most successful era in Spain’s history, men with 286 caps between them, but they will be in the firing line now.
Casillas spent most of the season on the bench in Madrid and for the first time Xavi was doubted in Catalonia, aged 34 and in need of careful handling. Both started here; there will be many saying that they should not have done.
The Spain coach, Vicente del Bosque, will probably resist a revolution and is not prone to radical changes or knee-jerk decisions. He has always defended those who have given Spain so much and rightly so. He will show them faith, too. But there will be questions, and some of them may even be of a philosophical slant. Just as they were after the defeats for Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the Champions League with some announcing the death of possession football.
“It would be a mistake to change the style,” Xavi had said on the eve of the game and the style itself may not be the problem but something is. The application of it, perhaps. Or the condition and form of those who are entrusted with carrying it out. “All the best intentions mean nothing if we can’t put them into practice on the pitch,” Xabi Alonso said.
Barcelona had an ultimately disappointing season, winning nothing for the first time in six years. But seven Barcelona players played a part here. There was only one from Atlético Madrid and they are the league champions.
The questions asked will be big ones, even if the charge in the final 15 minutes was driven by one team that could smell blood and another that could feel it seeping painfully from their body and wanted only for this to end.
Spain’s game has been about control over the last six years but here they lost it. They were neither quick enough nor strong enough nor well enough organised to stop Holland. The control was lessened still further when Xabi Alonso was withdrawn.
Nor did they keep the ball or create sufficient chances, despite getting the first goal early: the goal that usually comes as a guarantee, forcing the other side out. Here the goal, the thing they have most lacked, did not matter because they did not have the control that has always been at the heart of their identity.
This was not just a defeat, it was a disaster. In the next few days, the questions will be relentless, forever coming at the Spanish. Much like the Dutch did here.
The Guardian

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