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Spain's World Cup Downfall Is the Result of Losing Their Most Impressive Traits

David Ramos/Getty Images
Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2014

The first big result of the 2014 FIFA World Cup has seen the reigning champions spanked 5-1 by the team they beat in the 2010 final, with Netherlands exacting a clinical and emphatic revenge on Spain.

Despite Spain taking the lead from the penalty spot, Netherlands equalised before half-time and then scored four unanswered goals after the break. In doing so, the Dutch exploited weaknesses in the Spanish side which were apparent over the last year—but never taken advantage of in the ruthless, efficient manner that Netherlands managed.

Three key facets which have been vital to Spain's success over the last half-dozen years were sorely missing in their opening World Cup match and they'll need to find ways to rectify them before their crunch match with Chile on Wednesday. 

 

Casillas

Iker Casillas has just won the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid, but that's the only serious football he's had in the last 18 months. Usurped from his No. 1 spot at club level by Diego Lopez, Casillas has been unable to win his league place back at the Santiago Bernabeu and, though he certainly played a big part in the European Cup win, there were instances of poor decision-making and mistakes on show too.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JUNE 13:  Arjen Robben of the Netherlands shoots and scores his second goal, the teams fifth, as goalkeeper Iker Casillas of Spain looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group B match between Spain and Netherlands at Arena Fonte
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Even his error in the final, though, is insignificant alongside the catalogue of horror shows against the Dutch.

Casillas certainly could have prevented two, or even three, of the goals, wasn't commanding throughout and by the end, was as much a gibbering wreck as the rest of his defenders, who lost all shape, desire or ability.

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Lack of Runners, Movement

Spain's tiki-taka style has earned plaudits and criticisms for varying reasons, but there's no doubt it has been successful. However, the early success was based not just on immense ball retention and denying the opposition any time on the ball, but also in terrific final-third movement.

While Fernando Torres was at his peak in attack, with the pace and power he brought to the side, they also had David Villa coming in off the left, frequently looking to attack through the middle and making darting runs behind the defensive line.

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Andres Iniesta schemed centrally and Pedro or David Silva made runs in behind the defence from the right, while even the sub appearances of Jesus Navas brought a very direct threat, plenty of penetration for through-passes from midfield.

Against the Dutch, how many times did Iniesta, Xavi or Silva break beyond Diego Costa? Perhaps once or twice—and Silva almost scored from such an instance. How often did Jordi Alba, normally a huge threat offensively, manage to get behind the Dutch right wing-back, Daryl Janmaat? Not at all.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JUNE 13: Diego Costa of Spain lies on the field after being fould by Gerard Pique of Spain and awarded a penalty kick in the first half during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group B match between Spain and Netherlands at Arena Fonte Nov
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The lack of movement in the final third was a real letdown from Spain. The tempo was too slow, and as a result, the Dutch did not suffer enough and not enough chances were created other than Costa pulling into the channels to make an angle for a pass.

 

Pass, Pass....Press?

The most notable absence in Spain's approach was in their lack of pressure on the ball.

Formerly we would have seen the forwards and midfielders hound the opposition once the ball was lost, utilising the extra men with pushed-up full-backs and a group of technical midfielders to pressurise the opposition into passing quickly, backwards or else long up the pitch, thereby conceding the ball back to Spain and beginning another round of possession play.

There was none of this against the Dutch. Spain sat back, but not particularly deep, and waited for Netherlands to make their move. Invariably that move turned out to be a phenomenal pass from deep by Daley Blind, and Spain were utterly undone by it.

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