World Cup 2010: Spain Will Not Win the Tournament Without Secret Weapon
I know exactly what some of you thought when you saw the headline:
"Spain not winning? Secret weapon? What a load of rubbish."
I really don't think Spain, the European Champions, will win this World Cup in South Africa this summer.
The Spanish have some relatively minor issues with the team that can be overcome, but there's one glaring weakness in the side that could lead to them crashing out of the tournament at the latter stages.
First off, I think Spain have the most talented bunch of players in world football right now. They have strength and depth that is, arguably, only matched by Brazil and Argentina.
For la selección, everything changed at Euro 2008 as Spain finally won a major tournament since they first won the same trophy back in 1964.
There's a seemingly unshakable confidence emanating from the camp. Spain believe now, the fans believe, the media believes, and the whole world finally believes.
The Spanish are not dark horses any more; they are genuine favorites.
The Favorites Tag
Looking at recent record, its easy to see why Spain are favorites to lift the trophy.
They have won an incredible 33 out of 34 competitive matches, qualified for the World Cup with an unprecedented 10 wins in 10 games, and beaten the likes of Argentina, France, and England in friendlies.
Their most impressive victory came against the French in Paris last March. La selección destroyed the hosts, 2-0, in front of a packed Stade de France with goals from David Villa and defender Sergio Ramos.
In fact, the Spanish were so superior that the French fans ironically sang "Oles" to ease the pain of humiliation. Les Bleus were a shadow of the side that knocked out Spain at the quarterfinal stage of World Cup 2006.
The following day, the Spanish media were making bullish statements and printing bold headlines.
“There's no stopping this team now,” said one headline.
In the daily Marca, a columnist wrote: “Hands up any of you who did not go to bed last night with the feeling that no one can stop this team. Step forward those of you who doesn't think that, barring some major accident or a coincidence of strange events, that we're coming back from South Africa with the Cup under our arm.
"Too optimistic? No, just realistic. Watch the video of the game again and you'll see that I'm not sticking my neck out.”
The Spanish have never been this confident about their national team's chances at a major tournament, and looking at the quality of the side, it's easy to see why they might get carried away.
However, World Cup history is littered with the corpses of fallen giants that have crashed out of the tournament and found the "favorites" tag a burden rather than an exciting challenge.
Recent examples include Argentina in 1990, Germany in 1994, Brazil in 1998, France in 2002, and Brazil again in 2006.
Vicente Del Bosque, coach of Spain, admitted being favorites is a "terrible trap." A trap that has claimed great sides before them time and time again.
There's a risk of creating a dichotomy where you either win the Cup or you're a failure.
If the Spanish handle the pressure and expectations levelled at them adequately, they will be victorious, no doubt.
A Question of Size
Many football experts have pointed out that this Spanish team is small in terms of height. From potential starting lineup, only Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets are taller than 6 ft.
Of course, Del Bosque can call upon the likes of Torres and Fernando Llorente from the bench, but they're both strikers and thus will not be that much helpful in defense.
Why is size important?
Well, each of the last three World Cup winners in the modern game had a minimum of three players over 6 ft.
Opponents can exploit this lack of height in the team, especially from set-pieces.
For example, Brazil are particularly dangerous from such situations as they have a phalanx of giants attacking the ball from every corner or free-kick.
Lack of Width in Play
Spain are blessed with a plethora of talented midfielders such as Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Xavi Hernandez, and Andres Iniesta.
Judging by recent friendlies, Del Bosquet will opt for two holding players in midfield (Basquet and Alonso) and three attacking midfielders (Xavi, Iniesta, and Silva) supporting a lone striker, David Villa.
In this fluid 4-2-1-3 formation, Iniesta and Silva will be deployed as wingers and, although they can both play on the flanks comfortably, they are not natural wide-men. both of them like to come inside and thread balls from more central areas.
And as we saw at the Confederations Cup , this lack of width in the side makes the Spanish a little predictable at times and easier to stop if the right tactics are used.
The United States team showed everybody how to beat the Spanish:
1) Play a powerful striker, like Jozy Altidore, that can hold the ball up, run into channels, and chase everything;
2) Play two tough tackling defensive midfielders (such as Bradley and Clark) and tuck in the wingers to form a central wall;
3) Squeeze in the fullbacks to deal with wingers coming inside, conceding the flanks.
Lack of Steel in Midfield
One notable feature in that defeat to the US was the lack of bite and fight in the Spanish play. Spain were outmuscled and outfought, especially in the middle of the park.
This was because the Spanish were missing one of the finds of Euro 2008, Marcos Senna. He gives the team the added security in center with his tough tackling and smart distribution.
Senna sits just in front of the back four and, in his own understated way, destroys the opposition from the back.
He was Spain's unsung hero back in 2008 and an integral part of that European Championship-winning side.
Senna was left out of the final 23 because of injury, despite the fact that the player said afterwards that he's 100 percent fit.
However, it must be said that the Brazilian-born midfielder missed a lot of games games through injury last season, but so have other players such as Fabregas, Iniesta, and Torres.
Del Bosque should've definitely taken a gamble on Senna, especially considering his undoubted quality and importance to the balance of the side.
His omission from the squad could cost Spain dearly in the later stages of the tournament.
Being favorites in World Cups has proved to be a poisoned chalice. Many sides before Spain have found the "favorite" tag a burden rather than an incentive to perform and impress.
La selección have all the qualities needed to be champions, but they also have weaknesses that could cost them the trophy.
The key to Spain's success will be their tiki-taka possession game—one-touch football, which involves moving the ball with pace as well as precision.
Spain's ball retention qualities has been as valuable defensively as when attacking - opposition teams find it hard to get the ball.
However, as the US proved, there are frailties in the team that a well-drilled side can take advantage of. Shortage of height in the squad, a narrow midfield, and vulnerabilities in defense are all issues that can be exploited by the better teams.
The lack of width in the starting lineup and the shortage of height are two problems that can be addressed as there are players in the squad who can do a job.
Jesus Navas, Juan Mata, and Pedro can be called upon to provide both goals and width.
However, this current team, unlike the one that won Euro 2008, has a soft center that can be exploited; especially if you have individuals that hustle, hurry players into mistakes, and close down the midfield adequately.
Basquet and Alonso can both play as defensive midfielders, but they lack the speed and tenacity required to screen the defense, especially when facing a counter-attack.
That's why both play for their clubs alongside Sedou Keita and Lassana Diarra, respectively. Xavi Alonso used to always play alongside Javier Mascherano at Liverpool.
La selección are seen by many as the favorites to take the famous trophy home, and rightfully so. They have, arguably, the most talented group of players in the game today.
However, in modern football, you need a bit of brawn to go with the beauty. If Spain don't win this World Cup, it will be probably be because they left their secret weapon at home.
And his name is Marcos Senna.
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