Last night, Spain showed just why they are both the reigning world and European champions. In a game that will be regarded as a classic, Spain incredibly gave up a two goal lead and, in doing so, gave Scotland the hope of coming away with a point, maybe even a win.
But it was not to be for Graig Levein’s Scotland, as Spain demonstrated their mettle and class to again take the lead late in the game and collect all three points in the end.
It was a typical Spanish performance in many respects, at least in the first half anyway. Despite the intimidating atmosphere of Hampden Park, with the rapacious and boisterous Tartan army doing their best for the Scottish cause in the stands, Spain quickly settled into playing their possession game which they seem to do so with such ease.
Scotland seemed intent on sitting back and playing on the counter attack. It is a tactic that has often been used against Spain but one that has returned mixed results for the sides that have adopted this approach. It worked for Switzerland but not for Holland at the last World Cup.
There is no doubting the technical superiority of the current Spanish national team. Across the park, from back to front, the world champions possess incredibly gifted players.
For this reason, there is little else opponents can do other than to defend in numbers and try to play on the counter attack. The problem with this is that when a defense faces a probing and patient, but clinical, Spanish attack, chances will inevitably come and goals scored.
If it were not for some poor finishing, Spain would not have needed a penalty to take the lead. But as it turned out, a penalty from David Villa is what La Furia Roja needed to break the deadlock.
Following Andres Iniesta’s strike that made it two goals to nil for Spain, it seemed the world champions were on course for a comfortable victory. La Furia Roja were playing some splendid football whilst giving little away as they dominated time of possession.
But, Graig Levein’s side had other ideas. In a remarkable and completely unexpected turnaround, Scotland clawed back from two goals down to make it even after 68 minutes.
In what was their first shot on target, Steven Naismith scored his first international goal to put the Scots on the board. It was the result of some poor Spanish defending as Naismith stole in between Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos to head home.
Ten minutes later, the Spanish defense again fell asleep as Puyol and Capdevila were frozen out of play by a splendid back heel from Darren Fletcher. Again, Pique was horrendous in defense as it was his own goal that allowed Scotland back into the game.
But there is a reason why Spain has dominated international football for the last two years. Not only is it a side made up of supremely talented players, but it is also a side that possesses the mental mettle to remain calm and on task when things are not going right.
Despite forfeiting a two goal lead, Spain remained undeterred, and as play resumed, they continued their free flowing possession game.
Inevitably, chances would come, and indeed they did. Fernando Llorente, who scored a brace last week against Lithuania, continued his red hot form to score Spain’s winner. Tall, athletic, strong and clinical in front of goal, the in-form Bilbao striker already seems a ready-made replacement for the fading Fernando Torres.
Once again, Spain proved that their style of play is not only great football but winning football too. Based on possession and requiring an extremely high level of technical expertise, there are few teams, if any, in the world that can match Spain on a technical level.
Scotland was brave and did magnificently to come from two goals down against Spain. It was something that rarely happens. In doing so, Levein’s side perhaps exposed a weak link in the Spanish outfit, which exists in the center of defense.
However, this is something that will not worry the Spanish too much. The marking issues at the back can easily be resolved, and generally Gerard Pique is a strong performer. All footballers have a bad game every once in a while, and this is what happened to Pique, but he remains a world class stopper.
It was indeed a difficult encounter for the Spanish, but La Furia Roja remains the team to beat. It will take much more than a boisterous home crowd and a never-say-die attitude for any side to topple this current Spanish side.