Spain’s incredible dominance on the international stage ended in embarrassing fashion Wednesday when it was eliminated from contention at the 2014 World Cup with a 2-0 defeat to Chile.
The Spanish now have lost back-to-back games for the first time since October 2006, a span of 113 matches that included two European Championships (2008, 2012) and a World Cup title (2010).
The defending champions, who will conclude Group B play against Australia on Monday, have struggled in all three areas of the field in Brazil, specifically on defense where center backs Javi Martinez, Gerard Pique and Segio Ramos have been overrun by superior pace and strength.
These three players also had significant difficulty defending opponents’ counter attack, which forced goalkeeper Iker Casillas to make too many highlight-reel saves. At this stage of his career, Casillas won’t be winning games by himself.
As a result, Spain has conceded an unusually high number of goals at this tournament.
Spain: Have conceded more goals (7) in their last 2 games than they had in Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012 combined (6) #esp—
WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 18, 2014
From an attacking standpoint, Spain was able to create very few quality scoring chances in the first two group stage games. They scored one goal (a penalty kick) against the Netherlands in a horrendous 5-1 defeat last Friday, then tallied just eight shots (four on goal) against Chile.
Spain’s “tiki-taka” style of play that relies on dominant possession and wearing down opponents has been completely ineffective. The Netherlands and Chile shut down Spanish players as soon as they got the ball, which eliminated their time and space to make the next pass. Spain still enjoyed 61 percent possession on Wednesday, but most of it was in the middle of the field and away from the danger areas. It also hasn’t helped that forward Diego Costa, who played by himself in a striker’s role, is contributing almost nothing to the team’s attack.
0 - Diego Costa has failed to register a single shot on target in his 126 minutes of play at the World Cup 2014 (5 shots). Exhausted.—
(@OptaJean) June 18, 2014
It was painfully evident in the last two games that Spain lacks the energy required to play its tiki-taka style at a high level, and this is why Chile was first to almost every 50-50 ball and was able to defend for large portions of the game without tiring.
The duo of Barcelona veterans Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez — arguably the best midfield duo of all time — was broken up by manager Vicente Del Bosque in the Chile game when Pedro entered the starting XI in place of Xavi. Hernandez is 34 years old and didn’t have the pace to overcome quicker, younger opponents. Old age and fatigue are playing a factor in this lack of energy, but it also hasn’t helped that seven Spanish players took part in the Champions League Final in May, which featured La Liga (Spanish first division) clubs Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Ten of Spain’s players played in the semifinals of the Champions League.
Spain’s golden generation has come to an end, but there’s no doubt that it put together one of the most impressive runs in soccer history. There’s no reason for Spanish fans to panic, though, because there are plenty of younger players ready to replace veterans such as Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas.
The future is bright for the Spanish, but it’s hard to see that when the present is filled with enormous frustration and disappointment.
Photo via Twitter/@GoalUK