Does Spain’s lifeless performance in the World Cup 2014 mark the end of an era?
Many have pitched Spain’s calamitous World Cup campaign as the end of an era; and even after the initial shock fades, the pain dulls and some perspective is gained there may well be truth to that statement. Certainly, they will have to work hard to regain the casual air of invincibility which took them to a World Cup and two European Championships.
Successive losses against two entirely respectable opponents wouldn’t, in themselves, justify the storm of criticism the Spanish team will face when they fly back to Madrid. It is instead the tame, anodyne and passionless performances which shocked a world used to seeing them as champions. A team which came to so define the short passing, high tempo game that they gave us the term tiki-taka had their lowest pass accuracy (81.7%) since a World Cup quarter final defeat to South Korea in 2002. However, the statistics of the games don’t fully show how lost they seemed at times; clumsy in all areas of the field, ponderously slow and inaccurate at the crucial moments. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of all was the players’ body language; the arrogant swagger replaced by fear and petulance.
Of course Spain has some excuses to fall back on. Newly Spanish striker Diego Costa was clearly not at full fitness in either game and, had he buried the chances he was gifted, this might be a very different article. Similarly who knows what might have happened had David Silva converted his opportunity to put Spain 2-0 up against the Netherlands? Teams live and die by performances, but are created by talent and training. The Spanish team may have collapsed on the field, but are still far more able than their last two dismal games suggest.
Coach Vicente del Bosque will rightly face his fair share of criticism for the nightmare of Brazil. It has been clear for some time that his team would need to adapt both style and personnel to remain competitive at the top, changes del Bosque has been reluctant to make.
One thing which most commentators do agree on is that Spain’s early exit spells the end of their tiki-taka style. Fast, accurate and quick passing will always be a boon to any team but to make it to the top again Spain will need to ally those qualities with greater strength and pace. Koke, whose cameo during the Chile game was one of their few positives, exemplifies the skill, pace and vision which Spain will need if they are to climb back to the top.
Another part of Spain’s undoing was their reliance on a tried and tested old guard ahead of a cohort of dynamic young players who will soon fill their shoes. Xavi, whose contribution over 14 years and 133 caps has been immense, is at 34 nearing the end of his international career and will soon likely be replaced by Koke. Immensely respected captain Iker Casillas was also far below par, and some are now suggesting he too should abdicate in favour of 23 year old David de Gea. Iniesta, Torres and Xabi Alonso complete a list of players who may well be past their peak, but with Isco, Koke and the often overlooked Cesc Fabregas on the bench there is no excuse to not make the hard choices.
Rumours of Spain’s demise may have been exaggerated, but not by much. Complacency and stubbornness have taken them from World Champions to group stage casualties in a few short years and a wholesale reform will be required if they are to continue to convert sublime individual talent into international honours.