Saturday's Marca headline said it all. As if speaking on the nation's behalf, the Madrid-based outlet only had enough strength to utter two words following Spain's 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the Netherlands.
"Arreglad esto" it read – fix this – the text in white juxtaposed by an unorthodox all black front page background. And if Spain are to have any chance of defending their crown, Vicente del Bosque should take notice of Marca's imperative.
La Roja's dire performance should come as no surprise. And while most optimists will unashamedly run around reminding everyone that the last time Spain lost their first group match, they went on to win the World Cup itself, things just aren't as seamless they used to be.
Following their utterly awful performance, the prospect of their World Cup campaign ending in disappointment is a real possibility.
Their loss prompted Diego Maradona to comment: “Del Bosque should have kept in mind that clubs in Europe have found an answer to Barcelona's style, which is very similar to what their national team plays.
“A fast-paced policy based on counterattacks has worked well against them. Spain have refused to change despite critics repeatedly pointing out that their style has been exposed.”
For del Bosque and his troops though, their lacklustre performance isn’t a result of a lack of ‘plan B’ in the event that their tiki taka tactics fall through, it was a case of not learning from their mistakes. And last year’s Confederations Cup 3-0 rout at the hands of Brazil was just the start of La Roja’s recent stark decline.
A youthful Brazilian line-up seemingly evoked the spirits of the past – their aggressive attacking approach exploited the hidden cracks of a team who had previously conquered all before them. Spain’s performance was a far-cry from their dominant 4-0 Euro win over Italy just one year prior to their own demolition job.
Coincidentally, as if it were a sign from the divine, Spain’s next generation of stars, collected their own silverware, beating Italy 4-2 in the final of the European U21 Championship.
Unsurprisingly, many demanded the former Real Madrid manager properly integrate the younger generation. After all, even the normally divine midfielder Xavi looked less God-like. The 63-year-old del Bosque failed to act and the team are now paying the price.
Saturday’s result was yet another example of Spain’s growing list of deficiencies.
However, unlike their Confederations Cup result, their performances in the group stage do matter, and with a goal difference vastly inferior to the rest of the group, the Spaniards face an uphill battle to overcome their latest setback.
From the off, it just felt as if Spain were in for long night. Written off by many, van Gaal’s troops set about avenging for their 2010 World Cup final loss. As expected, Spain dominated possession, passing the ball around as if there was no tomorrow. But their lack of a cohesion in defence showed.
In a normal scenario, Alvaro Arbeloa would be brandished as the side’s weak link in defence. This time around, however, his Real Madrid teammate Sergio Ramos was the sinner. Sluggish and out of place.
The Netherlands often played in long balls behind Spain’s defence. A case in point was when Wesley Sneijder found himself through on goal after sneaking behind Ramos, only for his shot to be saved by Iker Casillas. Robin van Persie’s Superman-esque goal in the dying stages of the first half is yet another example of the lack of the communication between Spain’s back two.
It wasn’t just the defence at fault though – Spain’s midfield often lacked creativity. Xavi again showed why his time on the international stage should be coming to a close, while Xabi Alonso didn’t fare any better when paired alongside Xavi in the heart of Spain’s midfield. David Silva was also relatively isolated throughout the match, and failed to convert any of his clear cut chances.
Diego Costa, well, is a joke in itself, failing to replicate the form that he showed in Atletico Madrid’s title-winning run and Fernando Torres did his reputation no favours when we failed to convert a clear-cut goal scoring opportunity.
Having said that, it is del Bosque who must take the blame for Spain’s tactical foolishness. His experiment with Costa as a traditional No 9 failed miserably – his only notable contribution was when he childishly went down in the area to claim a penalty. The Brazilian-born striker looks out of his depth and, for Spain’s sake, should be limited to substitute appearances.
Meanwhile, del Bosque’s use of the 4-3-3 Barcelona styled formation was another disaster. Spain’s previous successes relied heavily on defensive stability and, in the future, the controversial double pivot would provide just that. Both Sergio Busquets and Alonso previously featured in that same role on international level, and del Bosque would be wise to revert back to his previous approach.
All hope has not been lost though. With two matches remaining, one of which is against the Socceroos, Spain will play with the belief that they can turn their fortunes around. Of course, things don’t just simply change for the better overnight, but if del Bosque heeds to the imperatives of the press by tweaking his tactics, La Roja will be well on their way to capturing a second world championship.