That was miserable. It is remarkable what Vicente del Bosque has done to an awesome collection of skilled players.
Spain’s most potent attacking play is a corner kick. Spain’s negativity is entirely elective – with that array of attacking skill they could overwhelm teams. But they choose to destroy the game by clogging the middle of the field and keep possession without trying to score goals until the defense made a mistake. Only it hardly ever happend. The result was a dire final unworthy of Spanish and Dutch tradition. Italy and France, yest. Spain and the Netherlands, no.
Spain are very skilled. So what. They won their last four games 1-0. They scored only 8 goals in the seven games of the tournament, eerily reminiscent of the 7 goals Greece scored to win Euro 2004 in six games. The Americans scored 5 (really 7) in just four games and just one of the US games had more chances and excitement than all of Spain’s combined. You don’t believe me? The Guardian’s Richard Williams, who said, “Holland and Spain’s anti-football let Europe down.”
What happened to the swashbuckling Spain that won Euro 2008 by scoring the same number of goals in the group stage that this iteration managed in the entire tournament? Was the shocking loss to the United States at the 2009 Confederations Cup that troubling for Spain that they simply could not recover their attacking verve?
The reasons for Spain’s dull display are obvious and entirely intentional. Their modified 4-2-3-1 featured essentially five central midfielders in Busquets, Alonso, Iniesta, Xavi, and Pedro. In short, there was no width. The only wide play came from full backs Joan Capdivilla and Sergio Ramos. But the buildup was so slow that by the time the ball was pushed out to them on the flanks the defense was easily able to cut out whatever crosses did come in.
The negative approach of the Spanish was made even more apparent by the substitutions del Bosque made during the second half – bringing on Jesus Navas and Cesc Fabregas for Pedro and Alonso significantly changed the game – opening up space for both teams. The winger Navas actually stretched the Dutch defenders for the first time and Fabregas was instantly more a factor going forward than Alonso. Of course, this allowed the Dutch the chance to break into this space too – but the most intersting part of the game was clearly the time between the Spanish substitutions and the ridiculous red card on Heitinga.
Spain won the World Cup. Congratulations. Its been far too long in coming. I wont begrudge their supporters the chance to revel in victory. But their performance certainly lost them the respect of many soccer fans around the world. And that’s a real shame.
Filed under: World Cup 2010