Spain’s shocking second half collapse against Holland marked the beginning of the end of its greatest generation. For almost a decade Spain dominated world football with a brand that delighted most and eventually annoyed some. Tikki Takka was never on display more than last summer in the Confederations Cup, when Spain’s opponents went long stretches without even touching the ball. Spain was at its highest height last summer, despite losing the final to Brazil who figured out that disruptive physical play was the only way to deal with the most technical team ever put together.
Spain may have peaked one year too soon. The concerns before this year’s World Cup was that the players looked visibly tired from a long season with all the Barca and real players involved in multiple competitions until the final stages. Whether it was age (Xavi and Xabi Alonso), fatigue (Iniesta, D. Costa, Busquets), mental lapses (Iker, Pique), severe lack of form (F. Torres, Fabregas) or a combination of all of these factors, Holland pounced like an insatiable lion on every half chance and ran the score up to embarrassing dimensions.
The obvious turning point took place late in the first half when Spain, already up 1-0 from a gifted penalty, missed the chance to go up two with David Silva missing a one-on-one chance with the Dutch goalie. Less than a minute later, Robin van Persie scored what should be the goal of the tournament, an incredible in stride header from just inside the box, and the momentum of the game changed completely. In the second half, Arjen Robben exposed and molested the Spanish defenders repeatedly, scoring a tremendous goal, while Spain struggled to generate clear chances and capitalize on its technical prowess. Even taking away the Iker Cassilas’ giveaways and the obvious foul on Iker in Holland’s third goal, and adding Fernando Torres’ ridiculous missed tap-in near the end of the match, Holland still deserved to win the game.
To be sure, the difference between Holland and Spain is not four goals. But Del Bosque has to resolve some obvious problems. De Gea must start game two. Maybe Albiol in the place of Pique, who was terrible throughout the Holland game. But in the middle there are no better options. Fabregas seems useless, Jesus Navas was left behind, so it appears that the veterans have to pick up their energy and play with more intensity. Up front is a big problem. Diego Costa can still menace defenders, but clearly he is operating at 50% capacity. And why is Fernando Torres on the team ahead of Negredo, let alone on the field? Torres looked horrible against Holland. Spain will probably get by Chile and Australia to sneak into the next stage, but energy and intensity will determine how far they can go in the tournament.