The writing was on the wall for Spain's exit
06/18/2014 7:07 PM
06/18/2014 7:07 PM
(SportsNetwork.com) - Spain came to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup with the hope of making history.
La Roja entered the tournament with an impressive record in recent major tournaments. The nation reversed its penchant for underachievement in 2008 with a triumph at the European Championship. It followed the feat with titles in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, helping the country become the first to win three straight major international competitions.
But there was still plenty of incentive for Spain's golden generation heading to Brazil.
Not only were Vicente del Bosque's men aiming to become the first nation to claim back-to-back World Cup titles since Brazil accomplished the endeavor in 1962, but they were looking to become the first European nation to win the World Cup on South American soil.
Such an accomplishment would have elevated the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso to an even greater celestial status than they already inhabit, but their era of dominance came to a crumbling end on Wednesday when Spain suffered a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Chile at the Maracana to prematurely eliminate the nation from the World Cup after just two matches.
Spain's horrid displays in Brazil cannot be overstated; La Roja dropped two straight matches, albeit against difficult competition, by a combined score of 7-1.
And the disappointment does not end with the final results. Spain's performances were lackluster from beginning to end, to put it kindly. To put it more accurately, it looked as though the Spaniards did not want to be in Brazil at all.
Spain will wrap up its World Cup with a dead rubber against Australia on Monday, and given the passion and pride exhibited by the Socceroos in their first two matches, it's a realistic possibility that Spain could go from top dogs in 2010 to dead last in 2014.
It is normal for World Cup winners to struggle in the following edition of the tournament. In fact, by bowing out so early in Brazil, Spain has become the third nation over the last four tournaments to win a World Cup and exit the next installment before knockout round, joining the 2002 France team and the 2010 Italy team for that unpleasant distinction.
But to see a global football power as strong as Spain disintegrate so mightily and so quickly is rare. However, that does not mean that we should not have seen it coming.
One of Spain's greatest strengths in years past was the level of continuity from club teams to the national team. The vast majority of Spain's 2010 squad was comprised of Barcelona and Real Madrid players. They literally played alongside one another for 11 months out of the year, so the high level of familiarity inside the team was a tremendous benefit to Spain, as it would be for any squad, in a month-long tournament.
The 2014 Spain team does not have that luxury. Club teams from all over the world have plucked some of the top Spanish players after seeing the vast success achieved by the team in the 2010 World Cup. Key Spanish players are now seen across Europe's top leagues as the likes of David Silva, Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata and Javi Martinez feature for Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, respectively.
Another possible explanation for Spain's flat showing at the World Cup is fatigue. It is worth noting that the squad's core group players has not had an extended break from the rigors of competition since 2011. And after another long club season in which many of them have played over 50 games, it's absolutely plausible that they were simply knackered in the unforgiving Brazilian humidity.
But even if you liked this Spanish team in the build-up to the World Cup, the dismal performance against the Netherlands on Friday should have absolved you of that notion immediately.
Despite taking a first-half lead, the Spaniards were uncharacteristically dull, failing to create much in the way of concrete scoring chances.
They were disorganized at the back, as well. The Dutch made halftime adjustments that changed the game, allowing Daley Blind to pick Spain apart with long balls to Arjen Robben in space.
And when the Bayern Munich winger exploited the gaps between Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, he was only left with Iker Casillas to beat, a novel task given that the Real Madrid 'keeper essentially entered the tournament as a walking howler.
Casillas' form, both in the World Cup and in the preceding months, can most aptly be characterized as comically shoddy. He even lost his place in the Real Madrid team and was reduced to only playing in Champions League matches this term. It's a wonder how Del Bosque did not opt to go with David De Gea or Pepe Reina from the start, or at least replace Casillas following his horrid outing against Holland, where the 33-year-old was at fault for three goals.
It wasn't be the only decision Del Bosque got wrong in the tournament.
In Spain's defeat to Chile, Del Bosque inserted Martinez into the center of defense next to Sergio Ramos, a player with whom the 25-year-old has little experience playing alongside. A move like that does little to aid a vulnerable defense that conceded five goals against the Netherlands and was getting set to face the attack-minded Chileans.
In short, everything that could have gone wrong for Spain in its World Cup title defense ended up going wrong.
And while the blame can be allocated across several different culprits, it's a fate that should have been expected.