Spain facing tough choices after Dutch humiliation

Monday, 16 June 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

REUTERS: Chastened Spain coach Vicente del Bosque faces some serious soul-searching after his team of champions were brutally exposed and destroyed 5-1 by Netherlands in a shocking World Cup Group B loss on Friday. Spain’s humiliating defeat in Salvador in their opening game, by far the heaviest under Del Bosque since he took over in 2008, was their biggest at a World Cup since they lost 6-1 to Brazil in 1950 and only their fourth competitive loss under the affable 63-year-old. Although the match started well for the holders and they led 1-0 through Xabi Alonso’s penalty, they were ripped to shreds by the rampant Dutch in the second half. Proven winners of the calibre of goalkeeper Iker Casillas, centre backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique and midfielders Xavi and Alonso were simply brushed aside by their opponents’ intensity and muscular tactics, with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie in devastating form. Fans around the world used to watching Spain effortlessly dominating opponents with their “tiki-taka” brand of passing football watched opened-mouthed as the Dutch poured forward and repeatedly breached the Spanish line. Although Casillas had a terrible game by his standards, surrendering possession to gift Van Persie his second goal, if it had not been for a number of superb saves the Netherlands could have won even more comfortably. Spain’s desperately ragged performance will leave Del Bosque wondering whether a serious overhaul is needed before they face Chile in their next game on Wednesday. An indication of the scale of Friday’s reverse is that on their way to winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Spain conceded a mere six goals in 19 games. Some comfort Del Bosque is unlikely to drop Casillas, the team captain, but Pique could be dropped after the Barcelona player was made to look slow and witless by the Dutch forwards. Javi Martinez, a converted midfielder with pace and strength, has looked assured at the back in Spain’s last two warm-up matches and could partner Ramos. In midfield, it might be time for Xavi and Alonso to make way, with Koke and Santi Cazorla the obvious replacements. Reverting to a system without a recognised centre forward, which was so successful at Euro 2012, and playing Cesc Fabregas instead of Diego Costa or Fernando Torres, is another option. “When a team loses a match it’s not just the performance of one single player, it’s a weakness in the whole squad,” Del Bosque told a news conference. “I feel very upset and disappointed but I have enough experience to understand this defeat,” he added. “We are all to blame. We have to look ahead and secure a win against Chile.” Del Bosque can take comfort from the fact that Spain lost their opening game at the 2010 World Cup to Switzerland but eventually went through as group winners. However, unless he can find a way to fix what was wrong with the team on Friday, he and his players may find themselves returning to Spain much earlier than anyone expected. Even if they manage to finish second in the group, Spain will probably face hosts Brazil in the last 16.

 Spanish newspapers bemoan World Cup ‘cataclysm’

Reuters: Spain mourned the national soccer team’s stunning loss to Netherlands in their World Cup opener on Friday with words such as “humiliation” and “nightmare” splashed across the front pages of newspapers on Saturday. Spain, one of the favourites to win the World Cup and defend their 2010 title, succumbed to a rampant Netherlands team in their heaviest World Cup defeat in over 60 years with a 5-1 demolition. “Worse than the worst possible nightmare for a team that had never conceded more than one goal in a European or World championship since 2008,” Spain’s leading newspaper El Pais said. “A complete cataclysm.” Madrid, which normally greets victories with blasting car horns and singing along the streets, had gone silent. “Ladies and gentleman, we’ve lost the magic touch” sports newspaper AS said. Spain’s defeat in Salvador was also only their fourth competitive loss under coach Vicente del Bosque since he took over in 2008 and has triggered speculation of the team’s possible premature return to home. “Spain started the defense of its title without any defense at all and ended up humiliated by Netherlands,” sports newspaper Marca said. Some newspapers took consolation from the fact that Spain also lost their opening game at the 2010 World Cup to Switzerland but eventually went through as group winners. Spain play Chile in their next Group B match on Wednesday.

 With Van Gaal, Dutch are dangerous again

Reuters: It had been billed, in boxing parlance, as a ‘re-match’ of the World Cup final from four years ago but no-one expected the old champion to be staggering around the ring in the final round with their knees buckling. And while many will wonder how a Spain team that has dominated international football for the past six years could collapse so dramatically, the other contenders in the tournament will be asking themselves how the Netherlands became the team that did the damage. In 2010 a Dutch team that was effective and well organised but whose negativity had little in keeping with the country’s tradition for flowing, attacking football, pushed Spain into extra-time before losing to an Andres Iniesta goal. Few cried any tears for them. The country’s tradition of producing attractive, attacking teams means they, like hosts Brazil, are expected to win but also to win with style. They certainly did that against Spain. If optimistic Dutch, four years ago, thought that coach Bert van Marwijk had at least built some solid foundations for the future, the plan was in tatters two year later when at Euro 2012, the Netherlands were eliminated after the group without a single point. Friday’s massacre of the Spanish was a performance that was unrecognisable from the dysfunctional disappointments mustered in Ukraine in defeats by Denmark, Germany and Portugal. Coach Louis van Gaal, determined to make up for his failure to even qualify the Netherlands for the 2002 World Cup, has taken full opportunity of his second chance. Nine wins from 10 qualifying games made the Dutch the first European team to qualify for Brazil and should have served as warning of what was to come – but after their Euro flop, there were few true believers. Van Gaal has transformed the squad however, while crucially keeping core of players who were truly irreplacable – Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben and totally overhauling his defence. None of the defenders that played against Spain in Soccer City have made the trip to Brazil but experienced midfielders Nigel de Jong and Wesley Sneijder were wisely retained. Van Persie and Robben showed exactly why they were spared from the cull with two- goals each, and wonderful individual displays, in Salvador. And one of the younger players Van Gaal has trusted in, Daley Blind, son of assistant coach and former international Danny, was outstanding, creating two goals and delivering quality passing througout the game. But arguably more important than the personnel decisions was the strategy Van Gaal adopted against Spain - injecting a strong pressing style in midfield and devastating counter-attack that was so in evidence against Spain. Van Gaal had the courage to switch from the 4-3-3 formation that worked so well in qualification to a five-man midfield that restricted Spain’s ability to dominate with their possession football. “It was exactly what the technical staff had predicted. Their tactics worked like a dream. I can’t wait to watch the highlights later on. Now it’s time to enjoy this surreal win,” said Van Persie. The former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach who takes over Manchester United following the World Cup has also used his famously blunt approach to deal with the dressing room disputes that plagued Van Marwijk’s team two years ago. The constant and corrosive debate over whether Van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar should be the main striker - or indeed whether they could even play together - has been ended with Van Gaal giving the Manchester United striker his full confidence. It was confidence that was repaid with interest and in a manner that Spain’s record-breaking generation will never forget.