Well there you have it, Spain have become only the fifth team in the 74 year history of the FIFA World Cup to be eliminated as the reigning champions in the first round.
They join the likes of Italy in 1950 and 2010, Brazil in 1966 and France in 2002 to suffer the unprecedented embarrassment of heading home well before they had the chance to defend their World Cup crown. Indeed, although this is just another stat which will line the pages of books centred around the history of the World Cup it seems that June 18 will be remembered across the world as the day when the death of tika-taka football was confirmed.
Many a fan, including those who are solely only interested in watching this prestigious tournament every four years will no doubt go to bed and wake up in the next couple of days thinking how Spain, the team who have ushered in a new era of total football, have disintegrated in the worst possible fashion.
As soon as the final whistle brought the game to a close, it was clear to note that the Spanish coaching staff and players showed signs that they had turned their signs of bitterness and sadness into sheer confusion. It was supposed to be a tournament where the current World and European champions demonstrated to the sphere of football that they still had it in themselves to cause an earthquake at yet another international show-piece.
Despite being pitted in a difficult group which contains the likes of the Netherlands, Chile and Australia, Vicente del Bosque’s side were fancied to top the group and at least reach the last four of the competition. However, Just like Spain I have seen the same expectations bestowed upon the shoulders of international football players only to be dashed before a blink of an eye.
Indeed, four years ago one balmy evening in Bari I sat in a bar and watched Marcello Lippi’s Italy being savagely outplayed by a plucky Slovakia side, who against all the odds emerged 3-2 victors that day, and in doing so, knocked the Azzurri out of the World Cup.
Although Italy were placed in a group of minnows, which alongside Slovakia consisted of Paraguay and New Zealand, the parallel to Spain’s elimination from the World Cup four years later is uncanny. The same could be said with France on a much more impressive scale, with the 1998 World Cup winners dumped out of the competition four years later without securing a single point despite being drawn alongside Denmark, Senegal and Uruguay.
Spain, Italy and France not only went into their respective tournaments with the aim of defending their World Cup crown but attempted to silence their critics by suggesting that they still deserved to be called the best international side by playing attractive football.
Just like Roger Lemerre in 2002 and Lippi in 2006, it is elementary to suggest that instead of choosing a team which showed signs of rejuvenation, Del Bosque choose to base the crux of his team around his World Cup title winning side in 2010.
The 63-year-old manager opted to choose 16 of the same players who made history on July 11 when they won their first World Cup in a 1-0 win over the Netherlands, and coincidently seven of the same players who started in the final represented Spain in their humiliating 2-0 drubbing by Chile.
Indeed, Del Bosque is not alone and he joins a list of four other managers who have made the same mistake before him, choosing a squad which is out of balance and destined for the grave. To put this into perspective, Lemerre opted to name a 23 man squad with 13 of the same players who participated for France in their embarrassing 2002 World Cup campaign, whilst Marcello Lippi decided to give flight tickets to South Africa to nine players who represented Italy in their World Cup final victory over France in 2006.
So there you have it, if age and over reliance on washed up players has anything to do with first round World Cup elimination, the answer to Spain’s own downfall in this tournament is elementary. In reality the majority of the blame for Spain’s collapse at the World Cup should not be heaped on the players, but instead the manager who for so long has basked in the limelight of his country’s international success.
The former Real Madrid manager, just like Lemerre and Lippi before him, would have noticed in the past two years leading up to the World Cup that his squad was simply not good enough to continue achieving on the big stage.
Although Spain comprehensively won their third European Championship in 2012 with somewhat ease, having beaten Italy 4-0 in the final, it can be argued that the dynamic midfield duo of Andres Iniesta and Xavi looked they had participated in their last tournament. Indeed, it can be said that the European Championships can be seen as the end of an era, with Del Bosque and the Spanish managerial setup unwilling to rejuvenate the side and ease the pressure from the likes of Iniesta, Xavi and Fernando Torres who were entering their autumn years.
Having been placed in a World Cup qualifying group consisting the likes of Finland, Georgia, Belarus and only France as suitable opponents he failed to take a chance and integrate promising youngsters from clubs in La Liga, opting to take a gamble with an experienced side in Brazil. The midfield engines of Iniesta, Xavi, and Xabi Alonso looked visibly exhausted during their World Cup qualifying campaign, and were somewhat fortunate to achieve automatic qualification, with France, Belarus and Finland giving them tough games.
The decision to pick Torres, who hasn't featured for Spain since last year’s Confederations Cup ahead of Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente is perhaps just as strange as instating Iker Casillas as his number one goalkeeper for the tournament despite limited appearances for Real Madrid in the previous campaign.
Of course it is slightly harsh to put all the criticism on Casillas for conceding the seven goals, coincidently more than Spain had conceded in their last three tournament victories, which knocked them out of the competition with one game left to play.
If Spain’s midfield looks porous then their defence has more holes than a slice of Swiss Emmental cheese, with the usual partnership of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos looking like they were more suited to a Sunday kick around with a local team rather than to be competing in the World Cup.
Indeed, the whole tournament has been a catalogue of errors for everyone involved with the national team and just like France and Italy did in previous years it looks like Spain will be heading for a turbulent year of drastic change and lows. It would seem that Del Bosque’s job as the manager has become untenable, despite guiding Spain to a historic consecutive haul of three trophies, and it would seem that the team are in need of a fresh face to restore the Iberian giants back to their former glory.
The path will be rocky and long and it is likely that the current crop of dejected favourites such as Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Torres will find it hard to get back into the first team if the new manager is serious about reform.
However, it is by no means the end for the national team and if there are any positives to take from the situation, remember that both France and Italy after their heart-breaking exits from the World Cup then went on to reach two international finals in the space of just four years.
Spain will temporarily disappear, but expect them to come back stronger in the not too distant future.
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