10 Biggest Mistakes Spain Made at 2014 World Cup
Spain couldn't have possibly endured a more difficult time at the World Cup in Brazil this summer, lamentably becoming the first defending champions to be bundled out of the tournament after just two matches.
In one of the most dramatic encounters in World Cup history, La Roja suffered an unfathomable annihilation at the hands of the Dutch, watching their international dominance vanish in a breathtaking 90-minute exhibition.
A subsequent defeat to the robust Chileans then confirmed the end of this Spanish generation, signalling the need for rejuvenation in Spain's ranks.
Now, with the nation's campaign over—and with the benefit of hindsight—we examine the biggest mistakes committed by Vicente del Bosque and his players that led to such a spectacular implosion.
Abandoning the Right Flank vs. Netherlands
The use of David Silva on the right flank has always been a double-edged sword for Spain.
Alongside Andres Iniesta, the Manchester City star is responsible for creating a vast array of the team's chances, utilising his adept passing to cut apart opposing defences. However, his tendency to drift centrally leaves Spain unbalanced, resulting in the right flank being practically abandoned as the team orchestrates the majority of their attacks through the middle and down the left.
Against the Dutch, that problem was highlighted dramatically.
While Silva was perhaps his team's most creative player in the opening half, the space afforded to wing-back Daley Blind was the catalyst for La Roja's second-half hammering.
With an abundance of time on the ball, the Ajax utility player effortlessly found Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie bursting into space behind Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, seeing the 24-year-old finish the match with two superb assists, per WhoScored.com.
Quite simply, if you're going to deploy a high defensive line, significant pressure must be exerted on the ball carriers.
Disaster is the only possible result if it's not.
Not Adjusting the Height of the Defensive Line at Half Time vs. Netherlands
As mentioned on the previous slide, Spain's high defensive line was exposed against the Dutch by an inability to press without the ball and the vast space afforded to Daley Blind.
But it wasn't just in the second half when that was evident, as the Dutch enjoyed a number of first-half opportunities on the break well before Robin van Persie's brilliant equaliser.
Given that Spain's ageing midfield was unable to press and hurry their opponents, it was imperative for adjustments to be made at half time to address the one clear issue hampering the defending champions' performance.
But that didn't occur.
Despite lacking the athleticism required for the once-effective press, Spain continued to leave themselves extremely vulnerable to counter-attacks by pushing their back four up toward the half-way line.
Essentially, when the midfielders and forwards can't aid the defensive effort further ahead, it's a huge gamble to push that far up.
And while it's understandable for that to be the case in the opening period, the lack of adjustments to an obvious problem after half time was puzzling.
Relying on an Unfit Striker
Let's not forget that Diego Costa is a mighty fine striker and a player who has been an overwhelming success at Atletico Madrid.
But relying on players lacking match fitness has regularly proved detrimental, with Costa becoming yet another example at this year's World Cup.
Already without a sense of familiarity with his national teammates, the 25-year-old was unable to exert any significant influence on La Roja's World Cup campaign, quickly drifting out of Spain's clash with the Dutch before completing an extremely peripheral showing against Chile.
While some players can partially overcome a recent lack of minutes, Costa's game is based on his pace, dribbling ability and inclination to press opposing defenders.
Without match fitness, those skills become almost non-existent.
Relying on a Goalkeeper Lacking Form and Playing Time
Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti have both recognised the decline of Iker Casillas, but Vicente del Bosque decided to ignore the warnings.
Relegated to the bench behind Diego Lopez at Real Madrid for the bulk of recent seasons, the Spanish icon has endured a slump in form; his excellent shot-stopping abilities being hampered by a lack of conviction when coming off of his line and an inability to dominate the air around his goal.
Out of loyalty and trust, however, Casillas was preferred ahead of Lopez, David de Gea and Pepe Reina as the first-choice keeper for this World Cup with disastrous consequences.
Against the Dutch, the goalkeeper's desperately poor touch gifted Robin van Persie a second goal and the Netherlands' fourth, while his failure to claim a routine save resulted in Chile grabbing the decisive second goal in Spain's second match of the campaign.
Failure to React Tactically to the Netherlands Disaster
It was blatantly obvious that the Dutch wing-backs caused Spain a raft of issues in their opening match of this year's World Cup, as La Roja's narrow shape left Daley Blind in particular to bomb forward in space.
Disappointingly, Spain failed to significantly adjust in their encounter with Chile, as Jorge Sampaoli's unique 3-4-1-2 formation exposed the same flaws.
Pressuring the Spanish midfield around the half-way line, Chile then burst into the space on the flanks with Arturo Vidal, Mauricio Isla and Eugenio Mena joining Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas to form a rampant five-man attacking wave across the width of the pitch.
With the Spaniards reluctant to move the ball wide to attack the expanses behind the aggressive wing-backs, Isla and Mena enjoyed the freedom to surge forward, knowing their opponents were more inclined to attempt to weave through the three central defenders.
Not Starting Koke vs. Chile
It was painfully clear that Vicente del Bosque needed to add some grunt and athleticism to his midfield for the team's clash with Chile after being spectacularly overrun by the Dutch.
Regrettably, however, the manager stuck with his favourite double-pivot pairing of Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso.
Almost predictably, Spain's encounter with the Chileans took on an identical theme to the match with Netherlands, as Jorge Sampaoli's ferocious team bullied the physically inferior Spaniards to set up blistering counter-attacks.
Had Del Bosque opted to start Koke, the game could have taken on a vastly different complexion, given that the Atletico Madrid star immediately sharpened up La Roja when introduced as a second-half substitute.
Failure to React to the Trends at Club Level
While Spain dominated international football for half a decade with their iconic style, La Roja failed to show that they'd adhered to the some of the lessons derived from the club level across Europe in recent seasons.
Indeed, Vicente del Bosque and his players should have been well aware that methods to counter the once-indomitable approach had been devised, as clubs around Europe embodying the Spanish style—most notably Barcelona (from 2012 onward) and Bayern Munich (in 2013-14)—had displayed a vulnerability under the tiki-taka ethos.
Yet, instead of stocking the squad with players capable of altering the team's methods if needed, Del Bosque decided to stick with those familiar to the long-running system.
Recognising La Roja's predictability and one-dimensional nature, Netherlands and Chile pounced on an outfit that had refused to adapt, exposing the same flaws that clubs such as Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid had uncovered domestically.
Leaving David Villa on the Bench While Spain's Campaign Was Alive
It's widely acknowledged that David Villa isn't the striker he once was, but he proved against Australia that he was still one of the squad's best attacking options.
Used on the flank alongside Fernando Torres, the New York-bound star was La Roja's standout performer until his second-half substitution, running relentlessly at the Socceroos' back four and consistently forcing his way into the box.
After the dire nature of Spain's attacks against Netherlands and Chile, the veteran's flurry of chances that resulted in a goal represented a refreshing change.
Yet, understanding Villa's absence in the opening two matches is difficult.
Given the fitness issues (Diego Costa) and form concerns (Torres) surrounding Vicente del Bosque's other striking options—not to mention the difficulties experienced on the flanks with wing-backs—it's hard to work out why the former Barcelona star wasn't used in any capacity during Spain's catastrophic opening matches.
Not Selecting Fernando Llorente
Despite the lingering fitness concerns, the rationale for the selection of Diego Costa was obvious, given his superb form for Atletico Madrid.
David Villa's inclusion was also understandable, given his unmatched excellence in front of goal for Spain.
Yet the selection of Fernando Torres over Fernando Llorente was a clear error, given the Juventus forward's vastly superior season.
In 29 Serie A starts, Llorente netted 16 goals and made five assists in 2013-14, compared to Torres' five goals and five assists in the Premier League, per WhoScored.com.
And while the Chelsea striker has greater familiarity with the team, Llorente is a better finisher and more effective in laying the ball off to midfield teammates running by.
In Spain's patient build-up play, the presence of the latter as a secondary option would have been far more beneficial.
Not Revitalising the Squad
Vicente del Bosque has always shared a seemingly unbreakable bond with his decorated stars, but his reluctance to add fresh legs and vitality to his squad doomed Spain's campaign in Brazil.
Of course, experienced heads are necessary in any competition, but ageing players need to be complemented by younger, more hungry and more athletic talents.
That, however, clearly wasn't the case for La Roja at this World Cup.
Against the Dutch, the physically declining Xavi and Xabi Alonso were swamped in midfield, while the gifted but hardly athletic Andres Iniesta and David Silva were unable to press with any effectiveness.
The same story ensued against Chile, with Alonso's turnover and inability to rush back to defend opening the door for Eduardo Vargas' opener.
Fernando Torres, too, was unsurprisingly ineffectual, continuing his forgettable form that should have been recognised by the manager.