World Cup 2014: Bad Team Selection Leads Spain To Tournament Exit

By Craig Pearson
Xabi Alonso looks dejected as Spain lose to Chile
Getty Images

The defending world champions are out of this year’s World Cup after consecutive losses in their opening two group games. Spain looked ragged and cumbersome as they were dismantled by the Netherlands last Friday, and on Wednesday, they looked clueless and lacked direction throughout a 2-0 defeat to Chile.

Undeniably, Spain are now in transition. The glorious Spanish era, which has ruled for the past eight years or so, is now over — and after an inevitable period of reflection, the rebuilding of this team will need to begin. Arguably, that rebuilding should have been done before this tournament began, but everything is always easier in hindsight, of course.

After the mauling at the hands of the Netherlands, however, it was clear that changes needed to be made for the game against Chile. Two changes were indeed made, but whether these two changes were enough or even the right changes is questionable. Spain head coach Vicente Del Bosque decided to bring in Javi Martinez and Pedro Rodriguez in place of Gerard Pique and midfield legend Xavi Hernandez.

In truth, not a lot really changed, and Del Bosque should have been bolder with his selections. In midfield, Xabi Alonso had an awful game and was substituted at half time. Alonso should have been one of the players to miss out on the game, with the likes of Koke and Cesc Fabregas in the Spain squad and ready to play.

The Diego Costa experiment upfront failed dismally, and you have to question the logic of suddenly playing with a target man on the eve of this tournament. Spain have always used a mobile striker or no striker at all, instead employing a false nine in attack. The team was not used to playing with a target man like Costa, and it showed in both games as he had little impact on either game. It takes time to adapt to a change like that, and Spain just never had the time.

Costa actually made some dangerous runs in behind the Chile defense in this game, but the Spain midfielders were not used to playing with Costa or his kind of movement, and a lot of his off-the-ball work went to waste. Ultimately, Del Bosque would have been better served to stick with Xavi rather than dropping him to the bench.

A lot of the Spain build-up play was aimless and lacked direction; it was as though the orchestra were trying to play without the conductor, and it was a mess. If Xavi’s legs are fading due to his age, then perhaps some younger legs should have been put into the team to help him through this tournament and allow him to continue to run the show. Against Chile, nobody was running the show, and Spain never really got going as an attacking force.

Koke should have played in midfield with Sergio Busquets, with Fabregas playing as a false nine up front, David Silva and Andres Iniesta on either side of him, and then Xavi roaming and linking it all together. Playing Juanfran at right-back would also have helped, because although Cesar Azpilicueta is very good defensively, he offers no value to the Spain attack.

Even with all of Spain’s troubles, however, it cannot be overlooked just how magnificent Chile were in the game. They play as a team, they are well organized, they work hard for each other, and they have a threat with the pace they have in attack. They also have quality in their star players with Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, but it is the team’s ethic that really stands out for Jorge Sampaoli‘s men, and playing as a team as they do, they will be a tough out for anybody in this tournament.

For Spain, they are already out, and if truth be told, they weren’t a particularly tough out for either the Chileans or the Dutch in the group. This is extremely surprising for the Spanish, although perhaps with a different team selection, things could have been different. We’ll never know for sure, but one thing we do know is that it really couldn’t have been any worse.

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