Spain not ready to cast aside old guard just yet
Crushing defeat to Netherlands will not precipitate wholesale changes for crucial Chile clash
The Netherlands’ crushing win over Spain has precipitated a question that wasn’t expected to come up until after the World Cup – when do Spain’s veterans give way to their rising crop of talented youngsters?
Coach Vicente del Bosque said changes would be made for the must-win match against Chile on Wednesday. But with their title on the line, Spain’s transition still may not be fully made in Brazil.
“To think that this generation of players is finished is a little exaggerated,” midfielder Xabi Alonso said on Sunday. “We’ve still got life, there’s more to come from this team, which knows how to compete.”
And compete they must. Spain not only need to win the group B match against Chile at the Maracana, but also have a big goal-difference deficit to make up after being routed 5-1 by the Netherlands.
“We should remember what these players have achieved over the past years, the history that we’ve made,” midfielder Cesc Fabregas said. “But we also can’t live off of that.”
Spain did look as if they were living off their reputation against the Dutch. Alonso and Fabregas alongside Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez, and Andres Iniesta have been the core of a team that has won just about everything over the past six years but who came up flat against the Dutch.
This “golden generation” looked fatigued as they struggled to respond to the onslaught in Salvador, when the Dutch rallied from a 1-0 deficit to hand Spain its worst competitive loss in 64 years.
Del Bosque has always been reticent to make wholesale changes to this group, leaving a number of talented players on the bench or out of the fold altogether.
Strikers David Villa and Fernando Torres were called in to back up newcomer Diego Costa, while Fernando Llorente was dropped despite enjoying a career-best season at Italian champion Juventus. Real Madrid playmaker Isco was also abandoned.
Midfielder Thiago Alcantara’s injury absence delivered a serious blow to Del Bosque’s plans, with the Bayern Munich playmaker having been earmarked to guide the attack as Xavi is coming off an inconsistent club season at Barcelona.
But even with talents like Javi Martinez, Koke, Juan Mata and goalkeeper David de Gea available, Del Bosque may not want to shuffle too much now. Sticking with the old guard would send a strong message that it’s too early for Spain to panic.
“For us it is a collective question: Either we all go home together or we keep fighting all together,” said Alonso. “No doubt we have undergone internal inflection since the loss. But we should not come to conclusions about these past years from one game.”
Spain also lost its opening match of the World Cup four years ago to Switzerland when it also found itself in a must-win match against Chile, which opened play in Brazil with a 3-1 win over Australia.
Spain eventually beat Chile 2-1 in its final group game in South Africa to top the group. In Brazil, it will need to match that result but with a bigger scoreline, something Spain’s possession-based game has struggled to do in recent tournaments.
Spain haven’t scored more than two goals in a World Cup match since a 3-1 group win over Tunisia in 2006, a span of 10 matches.
“We know what we need to do, we have players of different profiles and different characteristics who can do it,” Alonso said. “But we have to be intelligent and not fall into any traps against Chile. I think our team is deep enough, we have enough players to combine styles of control with a more attacking approach to win the game while scoring goals at the same time.”
Spain last failed to advance out of the group stages of major championship at Euro 2004.