Chastened Spain coach Vicente del Bosque faces some serious soul-searching after his team of champions were brutally exposed and destroyed 5-1 by Netherlands in a shocking World Cup Group B loss on Friday.
Spain’s humiliating defeat in Salvador in their opening game, by far the heaviest under Del Bosque since he took over in 2008, was their biggest at a World Cup since they lost 6-1 to Brazil in 1950 and only their fourth competitive loss under the affable 63-year-old.
Although the match started well for the holders and they led 1-0 through Xabi Alonso’s penalty, they were ripped to shreds by the rampant Dutch in the second half.
Proven winners of the caliber of goalkeeper Iker Casillas, center backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique and midfielders Xavi and Alonso were simply brushed aside by their opponents’ intensity and muscular tactics, with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie in devastating form.
Fans around the world used to watching Spain effortlessly dominating opponents with their “tiki-taka” brand of passing football watched opened-mouthed as the Dutch poured forward and repeatedly breached the Spanish line.
Although Casillas had a terrible game by his standards, surrendering possession to gift Van Persie his second goal, if it had not been for a number of superb saves the Netherlands could have won even more comfortably.
Spain’s desperately ragged performance will leave Del Bosque wondering whether a serious overhaul is needed before they face Chile in their next game on Wednesday.
An indication of the scale of Friday’s reverse is that on their way to winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Spain conceded a mere six goals in 19 games.
Del Bosque is unlikely to drop Casillas, the team captain, but Pique could be dropped after the Barcelona player was made to look slow and witless by the Dutch forwards.
Javi Martinez, a converted midfielder with pace and strength, has looked assured at the back in Spain’s last two warm-up matches and could partner Ramos.
In midfield, it might be time for Xavi and Alonso to make way, with Koke and Santi Cazorla the obvious replacements.
Reverting to a system without a recognized center forward, which was so successful at Euro 2012, and playing Cesc Fabregas instead of Diego Costa or Fernando Torres, is another option.
“When a team loses a match it’s not just the performance of one single player, it’s a weakness in the whole squad,” Del Bosque told a news conference.
“I feel very upset and disappointed but I have enough experience to understand this defeat,” he added.
“We are all to blame. We have to look ahead and secure a win against Chile.”
Del Bosque can take comfort from the fact that Spain lost their opening game at the 2010 World Cup to Switzerland but eventually went through as group winners.
However, unless he can find a way to fix what was wrong with the team on Friday, he and his players may find themselves returning to Spain much earlier than anyone expected.
Even if they manage to finish second in the group, Spain will probably face hosts Brazil in the last 16.