Last night, defending champions Spain became the first team to be knocked out of World Cup 2014. Most observers predicted they would find it tough to replicate their success from four years ago but nobody expected them to lose their first two games in such emphatic fashion.
As with Holland in the previous round of games, Chile showed up weaknesses in the Spanish squad and emphasised the current trend towards a more direct approach. The teams that have shone in the competition so far – Holland, Germany, Chile – all combine good possession with pace, direct runs and more vertical passing.
One of the features of Spain’s fantastic run in major tournaments was their defensive solidity. This meant they were never chasing the game. Once they went behind to Chile, Spain’s patient passing style seemed out of place. Two down, with their World Cup future on the line, they didn’t seem to have a second gear.
Playing Diego Costa up front didn’t work out. He was clearly not match fit and lacked sharpness after an injury hit finish to last season. In addition, Spain’s style of play didn’t seem to suit him. He is used to a more direct, counter attacking approach at Atletico Madrid.
Iker Casillas was another weak point in the Spain team. Over the years, he has been a fantastic player but he hasn’t had a very stable two years. In the season just gone, he only made two league appearances for Real Madrid. He did feature in their successful Champions League campaign but even there he made a potentially costly blunder in the final. Regular football is especially important for a goalkeeper, a position that relies on confidence and concentration. There is the suspicion that del Bosque picked him out of loyalty and on reputation rather than on current form.
You can have as much pretty passing in the centre of the field as you like but if your goalkeeper and centre forward are off form you will struggle to get results.
To lose to Chile and the Netherlands is not a disgrace and Spain had some bad luck along the way. However, you couldn’t help feeling, as the disconsolate Spanish players trudged off the pitch, that this was the end of an era.
Is this the end of an era? Should Reina and Villa have started? Please let us know your opinion in the comments section below.