It will rain tears of sorrow in the plains of Spain

Will he lift up the World Cup Trophy July 11th?

The other Guardian publication came out with this article a couple of weeks ago about 6 great teams that never won the world cup. It’s a good read and it got me thinking about other great teams, club and country that had it all but couldn’t capture the big prize. Most recently Barcelona came to mind in this years Champions League. They were an incredible team but couldn’t get it together nor break through Mourinho’s well orchestrated defensive tactics and lost over two legs in the semis.

Spain are a fantastic team. As of now they are the favorite amongst most pundits and bookies to hoist the cup on July 11th. They won Euro 2008 beating holders Greece, Italy and Russia en route to a 1-0 final against Germany. Between the end of 2006 and the summer of 2009, Spain went unbeaten in 35 international matches until they lost to the US in the semis of the Confederations Cup. Since that 2-0 loss in South Africa they have won their last 9 games. That is 1 loss in 45 games!!! This is a great team and a great team that will not win the world cup in 2010.

Spain has always been a very good team. They were also notorious for under performing. As far as I can remember they have entered the European Championships or the World Cups as potential favorites, if not a semi final team yet with the exception of Euro 2008 had never progressed beyond the quarters (They did win the Euros back in 1964 but that was many moons before I was born).

"The Vulture" could never take Spain to the next level.

Whether it was poor coaching, dubious refereeing, nerves or under-achieving, Spain could never bring it together to mount a serious challenge to win the trophy and typically bowed out to “lesser” opposition. Then in 2008 seeded 12th and 16 matches into their undefeated streak, they finally shed their “couldn’t win the big tournament” moniker and were deserved European Champions.

The Spanish team don’t really have a weakness. They are very well coached by Vicente del Bosque who was a multiple Primera and Champions league winner with Real Madrid. Their three keepers could all start on most national teams and Iker Casillas is one of the top 2 keepers this past decade.

The midfield is a showcase of class, skill and is so potent that Arsenals best player, Cesc Fabregas has trouble cementing a place in the starting 11. Torres and Villa lead the line and both are the cream of the crop when it comes to world class strikers.

Off the bench, they can bring on more world class striking firepower should they need it or defensive midfield help if they need to hold onto a lead. Their second team could beat most national teams.

Under-rated due to their exquisite attacking prowess is their defense which is well marshaled by Barcelona duo Pique and Puyol. If they have a weakness at all, its at the wing backs with Real’s Arbeloa and Ramos often foregoing their defensive duties in order to join in on the fun up-field.

All in all Spain is a well oiled perfectly constructed football team that has dominated world and to an extent club football for the better part of 3 years. So why won’t they win?

Will Nando be fit enough to lead the line for the Furia Roja in South Africa?

Spain are very much like Barcelona. They play the beautiful game and they play it well. They are relentless going forward but also possess top notch defenders to quell any counter the other team might offer. Parking the bus against the likes of Barcelona and Spain doesn’t work either, as their midfielders will find a way to penetrate and their quick strikers can score with both feet and head. In this manner they are in a way, very one dimensional.

Against Inter Milan, Barcelona repeatedly tried to break through by trying to pass the sexy through ball to the likes of Messi, Pedro, Ibra etc… Time and time again the Inter defense would close the gaps as it was obvious what was going to happen. Barcelona don’t surprise anyone and neither do Spain. You know they’re going to maintain the majority of possession, control the midfield, lure you out and then strike with deadly precision. They know they are better then you and its just a matter of time until they score their first goal. After which their opposition needs to go forward leaving more gaps and space for the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso etc… to exploit. Floodgates opened!

What Jose did in both legs of the semis was to let Barcelona control parts of the pitch that he didn’t care about. He let them bring the ball to them and then shut their channels and passes down. He also included three forwards (most teams keep a solitary striker up top), so the Barca defense had to be on their toes and watch out for a counter. The key was that those forwards were back shutting down Xavi and Co and when they did go forward they came at the Catalans in a quick wave of attacking football. If it didn’t work they quickly defended but let Barcelona come at them versus chasing them all over the pitch.

Inadvertently, the US did the same thing against Spain at the Confed Cup. Spain did themselves no favors by taking the US for granted and didn’t really get into the game until the second half when it was already too late. They just kept trying and trying to lob or pass through or around the US defenders and they could never draw them out. The US didn’t break in the center of defense and let Spain attack only from the wings which they dealt with easily. Donovan and Dempsey were essentially extra corner backs who could break at speed and thanks to poor defending by Ramos and Spain, were pretty comfortable 2-0 winners.

The US did it. Can any other team?

One thing both these teams don’t do is shoot from outside the box. Those are tough shots to save and deal with when there are lots of people in front of you and defenders have to come out to stop them. This is where the gaps open up. In both games illustrated above, neither Barcelona nor Spain shot from outside the box and kept trying to penetrate on the ground. A well coached or well disciplined defensive side will stop that just about every time.

Spain will walk through their group barely breaking a sweat. Their round of 16 opponents will more than likely be Ivory Coast or Portugal, both attack oriented teams with undisciplined defenses. Spain’s first test will be in the quarters against Italy who will have paid a lot of attention to how Inter stopped Barcelona. If they get past them they will probably meet Germany, another disciplined team. Even if they make it to the finals, much attention will be paid on how to stop them where as Spain will just continue to do what they do better than anyone else.

I love watching Spain. The combination of skill and class is a pleasure to behold and they truly play the beautiful game. It’s just that its predictable and until they find a plan B and C, other well balanced teams with less skill and flair will give them trouble and just might beat them.

28 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/05/27 at 3:35 AM

    I feel a lot of Spain’s issues were in-house squabbling under the didctatorship of General Franco. Playing for Spain didn’t mean too much for the Basque Country and Catalonia. Obviously I am simplifying a major historical issue, but it is something that a lot of people don’t realise.

    As always, great article Shaun.


    • Posted by pino on 2010/05/27 at 11:06 AM

      George i couldn’t agree more! Its no coincidence that this spanish squad was able to find success without Raul one of their greatest scorers ever. i had always heard that he was a terribly divisive force in the locker room and didnt get along with the Catalan players at all. Im glad they won the Euros with out him


  2. Posted by s44 on 2010/05/27 at 3:55 AM

    If Iniesta and Cesc are both still injured, that’s a big hit — Xavi, great as he is, can’t do it alone. Note that both the Inter tie for Barca and the US-Spain Confed match were without Iniesta.


  3. Jonathan Wilson looks at the US vs. Spain match:


  4. Posted by Soccernst on 2010/05/27 at 9:55 AM

    For a moment there I thought I was reading a basketball playbook. If a team is clogging the lane, doubling your big men, or collapsing into a zone, the key to the lock is the trifecta. If a team is parking the bus, do not dribble into the traffic jam, do not lob into the traffic jam, call in the snipers.

    Hadn’t thought of it in these terms before. Will be an interesting sub plot to watch this summer. Thanks Shaun.


  5. Posted by Spain on 2010/05/27 at 1:06 PM

    Okay your saying they won’t win but everything in your article points to victory. You make no sense.


    • Posted by sfshwebb on 2010/05/27 at 1:15 PM

      I say they have the makings to win it all but they won’t because they never deviate from their current method of playing. If they did then they have a very good chance but I say that a well coached and disciplined side will stifle them most of the time.


      • Posted by MJ on 2010/05/27 at 3:38 PM

        You can be the best (anything in the world) but if you’re predictable, than you’re beatable. At this level where opponents aren’t just skilled but intelligent, somebody is bound to draw the connection. The worst part is, the more you win in a predictable manner, the more you provide the next guy with an outline of how to beat you. Good work Shaun.


  6. Posted by Applesauce on 2010/05/27 at 7:40 PM

    I just wanted to say that Barcelona is not the Spanish national team.

    That being said, there are some similarities, but mainly in the midfield. The attacking duo of Villa (ironically now at el club mes que un club) and Torres differ greatly from l’equip blaugrana.


    • Posted by sfshwebb on 2010/05/27 at 8:37 PM

      Applesauce – Do you really think that the attacking duo differ from say Messi, Ibra, Pedro?

      I think in Ibra, ideally will reflect Torres for his ability in the air, being strong and having two good feet where as Messi (no one really is like Messi) and Pedro are similar to Villa. Those strikers are asked to time their runs and latch onto the passes provided to them by their midfielders. Watching that semi against Inter at Barcelona was very similar to the Spainish game against the US. Flanks were open and the strikers kept trying to get into those channels on the edge of the box. Eventually they scored but it was too late.

      Even though they are of different nationalities the attacking style and forwards reflect the engine that sets them up and i thought they were similar. Would love to hear your opinions.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/05/27 at 8:56 PM

        Ibrahimoviv is a pretty static player( read: lazy), and for such a tall man, he is surpisingly shite in the air. Torres is more dynamic (you being a Liverpool fan, you know the range of goals he is capable of). But in terms of how Spain and Barcelona play, I agree that they play a similar game.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/05/27 at 9:13 PM

          Coming in late here and off-point, but Ibra is categorically not a lazy player. He just doesn’t fit in the Barca system. He was downright masterful at Inter.

          He’s a straight ahead guy and better suited for Serie A or the EPL. He’s not great in the air, but he’s not terrible. The same can be said of Adebayor over the years.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/05/28 at 5:30 AM

          People say Berbatov isn’t lazy either!


          • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/05/28 at 5:34 AM

            Berbatov is lazy – Ibra plays much better “I just lost the ball defense, he also drifts outs wide to receive the ball, Berbatov only goes out wide if there is a Russian model out there or something…


  7. I believe the differences between Spain and Barcelona is the key to their success in South Africa. They do possess more than most teams and our midfield consists mostly of blaugrana players, but its the players from different clubs which will make us better than the rest. To say Torres is like Zlatan is a travesty. Yes they’re both big men with a good touch. But Torres is much more of a dynamic player with the ability to run in behind defenders (ex. his goal against Tunisia in ’06). I wouldn’t say that Villa compares to a messi because at valencia he plays more as a target role. WIth Xabi Alonso in the mid field, you won’t see as much of the beautiful game. He played in Liverpool and now real madrid, which is more of a direct style of play. Which brings me to my point that if spain have a hard time finding gaps in behind the defense, they have the players to play direct either in counter attack or through the run of play.


    • Posted by sfshwebb on 2010/05/29 at 12:45 AM

      Tonton – Please note that I never said that Torres is like Ibra…just that in theory Barca would like him to be in the same way he is for Spain, bu ti agree they are completely different and it is a travesty to compare Zlatan to Nando.

      I agree that the differences are key to their success but Spain never play counter attacking football as they are always on the attack and always attack in one fashion. For them to be successful they need to shoot from afar to draw the defenders out and then make them guess, will they pass through into the penalty box or shoot outside it. Barca beat Chelsea two years ago to get to the finals from an Iniesta shot outside the box that totally caught Chelsea by surprise. They had been trying in vain all game to break through the back line. Spain is the same way.


      • I agree that they must vary their attacking styles, but with the high quality players they have and the genius of Del Bosque they will be able to be successful. How are they supposed to counter attack when every team they will play will sit at least 9 players behind the ball? I’m sure if they had the space they would try the counter attack but its just never on. The spanish mid field has enough quality to strike from distance but with the low percentage of goals scored from outside 25 yards, they will most likely keep possession.


  8. […] a couple of weeks before the World Cup, stating why Spain wouldn’t win. One can read it here, but the gist of it states that Spain are an amazing team, but only have one method of playing, and […]


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