Oh, Espana! What has happened to you?
World Cup winners 2010, European Championship winners 2008 and 2012. Out of this World Cup after two defeats: 1-5 v Holland, 0-2 v Chile tonight.
How can this be? They’ve looked tired, jaded, slow. Their tiki taka style – short sharp passing, high intensity defending up the field, following the example of Barcelona – set the benchmark for football in the last decade. But gradually the other top teams have worked out how to face the pressure and break out fast when they get possession. And the leading players – Xavi, chief philosopher, Iniesta the artist, Busquets, the enforcer – have faded, as age and injury takes its toll. Xavi was actually dropped tonight. Xavi! The symbol.
And a decision which looked likely to add goalscoring talent may actually have backfired. Diego Costa, a Brazilian, who was up there with Messi and Ronaldo in La Liga, knocking them in for Atletico Madrid (champions this season) chose to play for Spain, rather than his home nation. It was surely the icing on the cake…
But no, not in this World Cup. He has looked out of place, bewildered. Not the target man. Not on the radar. Introduced to a faltering team, uncertain of how to play with an old fashioned centre forward in its midst.
The empire has fallen after a glorious dominion. Will it rise again quickly, or spend some time in convalescence, with a new generation of footballers finding their way at international level? The latter is the norm for most countries, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Spain strong again in the European Championships.
But for now, goodbye Spain – and credit to Chile for an excellent performance. They were sharp, strong and fast. Playing with a verve that matched the Germans. They now have a clash with Holland in the last group match. The prize for the winner: avoiding Brazil in the last 16. Assuming Brazil secure top place their group, which is not a foregone conclusion, after their poor performance against Mexico.
And so on, in day 8, to England’s defining moment. Uruguay awaits….