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Don't Count Spain Out Despite Confederations Cup Flop

Christopher Coppock |
July 2, 2013 | 3:04 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Xavi and Spain's play in the Confederations Cup was far from inspiring, but this doesn't mean you can count them out just yet. (Wikimedia Commons)
Xavi and Spain's play in the Confederations Cup was far from inspiring, but this doesn't mean you can count them out just yet. (Wikimedia Commons)
Spain exited the Confederations Cup Final with a whimper, having been thoroughly whipped to the tune of a three-nil scoreline by a resurgent Brazil. The warning signs had been there before, however, as La Roja struggled mightily against Italy in the semi-finals, riding their luck throughout the majority of the match as Italy missed a string of golden opportunities before Leonardo Bonucci blazed his side's seventh penalty over the crossbar and before Jesus Navas beat Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon to the keeper's right. 

In the final, Spain were outworked, outplayed, and outmaneuvered as the Selecao ran roughshod over the reigning World Champions. Immediately following the loss, many were quick to jump to conclusions that Spain's golden generation was passing. People debated whether Xavi had lost his edge or whether Iker Casillas was still the animal in goal he once was. Commentators around the world immediately found fault with Spain's tactical plan, lack of a backup plan, and the inability to break the pressure in this tournament as they have in games past. Perhaps most astonishingly, many people have decided to discount Spain altogether next year, believing that their tactics are flawed, their players are old, and their opponents have caught up. 

If you wish to discount Spain, however, do so at your own peril. The majority of Spain's first XI throughout the tournament play their club ball for either Barcelona or Real Madrid. This means that they have suffered fitness-wise from extremely long, thorough campaigns, leaving them worn out by the start of the tournament. In addition, many Spanish players have not had a break from playing and training for any reasonable amount of time since 2007. That is an awfully long time to be playing year round soccer at the highest level. Perhaps most notably, however, is that Spain played 120 hard minutes against Italy only three days before the final. Having such a short recovery time undoubtedly impacted their ability to play their game. 

SEE MORE: Brazil Scrapes Into Confederations Cup Final

The notion that Xavi is washed up, while not entirely off base, is missing the point. Certainly, at 33 years of age, he can no longer dominate a midfield all by himself, but given the right players around him to provide support he is still one of the very best central midfielders the game has ever seen. The issue for him is that the support was rarely there against Italy or Brazil. Because Iniesta and Sergio Busquets were also worn out from long club seasons with Barcelona, they were unable to peg opposing teams back enough to allow Xavi space to play the killer pass he is so well known for. 

Certainly Spain has issues, particularly at the back, where the back four were exposed over and over and over again by ruthless pressing from Brazil and lighting quick counter attacks. Arbeloa particularly was exposed by the pace and trickery of Neymar. Spain's game, much like Barcelona's, relies very heavily on the fact that the fullbacks will be overlapping the wingers at pace, providing a space to release pressure and drag defense wide to create space in behind. That never happened against Brazil as both Jordi Alba and Arbeloa were busy defending for the majority of the match.

Credit must be given where credit is due, however, as both Brazil and Italy adopted game plans that stifled Spain with incredible effectiveness. One could be safe betting the farm on the fact that at next year's World Cup many teams will try to replicate the same game plan that those two sides used to such effect. 

Still, one should next expect Spain to roll over next year. It is important to remember how the last Confederations Cup played out. There, in South Africa in 2009, Spain went out in the semi-finals to the United States, before Brazil came back from 2-0 down in the final to beat the Americans. The following year, in the World Cup, the Americans barely made it out of the group stage, Brazil never really threatened in the knockout stages, and Spain rode their luck and tiki-taka game to international glory. 

Thus it would be foolish to try and draw too much from the outcome of this tournament. I would be extremely surprised next year if three teams from this tournament, Italy, Brazil, and Spain, are not in the World Cup right at the end, fighting for the title of World Champions. Often it seems as though any team that is on a roll after the group stage, regardless of their pre-tournament ranking, has as good a shot as any at winning. The World Cup kicks off early next June, and it can't come soon enough. Just don't expect that the Spanish will be looking to do anything less than defend their crown. 


Reach Staff Writer Christopher Coppock here or follow him on Twitter here.



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