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Why Spain’s soccer team should look to Italy

The problem of the national side is no longer its midfielders, but rather the whole ensemble, and decisive action is needed by manager Fernando Hierro

Iniesta heads the ball as Boutaib and Busquets look on. Ampliar foto
Iniesta heads the ball as Boutaib and Busquets look on. AP

Spain’s national team has forgotten how to play soccer, and is instead engaged in making mere plays, ones that have at least been sufficient to see them reach the quarter finals in the Russia 2018 World Cup. The team’s 2-2 draw against Morocco last night – thanks to what looked like an offside goal being allowed after going to VAR video review – saw Spain finish top of its group, also helped along by Portugal’s last-minute draw against Iran, in a match that was playing out at the same time on Monday night.

Last night’s game should have been a simple one, given that the opposing team already had its bags packed ready to leave Russia

Last night’s game should have been a simple one, given that the opposing team already had its bags packed ready to leave Russia and the tournament. Spain’s performance has been getting progressively worse during the World Cup so far, and was riddled with faults in last night’s match.

The focus more recently has fallen on the team’s midfielders, who were one-time protagonists of Spain’s successes after many years of suffering, given that there were always German or English forwards or defenders who were taller and stronger. Until yesterday, all the talk was about the age of Iniesta, the physical condition of Busquets, the burnout of Silva, or the risks that Thiago has to bear while Koke is resting and Saúl is waiting his turn. The word “muscle” is once again being bandied about as a solution to a team that is currently too vulnerable, even against Morocco.

While individual mistakes are being repeated, the problem doesn’t appear to be attributable to any one player, but is rather a collective issue; because ‘La Roja’ has lost its team spirit. It is no longer as compact as before, nor does it pile on the pressure any more. The players are losing possession all of the time, and are unable to seal up their defense. After De Gea’s slip-up against Portugal, last night we saw Iniesta play below par, which just served to fan the flames of the debate about the resources Spain has at its disposal.

While individual mistakes are being repeated, the problem doesn’t appear to be attributable to any one player

His moment of the night came when he assisted with the goal that brought the score even, which was the work of Isco, who right now is the star player of Fernando Hierro’s squad. The rest of the players offered momentary displays of their good repertoire, until the second half of the game began and they sunk without trace, felled by Morocco.

Spain has lost its authority, dominance, rhythm, order and dynamism, and is frozen stiff on the field and on the bench, while manager Fernando Hierro looks on in shock. If the much-needed intervention of Hierro does not come about, the team will have no option but to take a leaf out of Italy’s book. There is no team in the world better qualified to win a championship when there is only bad news than Italy. After what it has been through in Russia, having apparently forgotten how to keep the ball in its possession and actually play soccer, Spain should look to the ‘Azzurra’ – even if the memory of Iago Aspas’ 90th-minute goal last night will live long in the collective memory.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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