How do you solve a problem like Spain?

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From Queen’s Park to Seville...

“The Englishman had all the advantage in respect of weight and pace. The strong point with the home side was that they played excellently well together.”

This is from the Glasgow Herald’s match report on the first ever international – England vs Scotland in 1872 (Scotland were entirely represented by Queen’s Park players and the game finished 0-0) – but could as easily have been the verdict on England vs Spain last week.

Phil Jagielka’s unfortunate assist for Spain’s opener symbolised a carelessness with the ball that has, since the 1870s, been part of English football’s DNA and which must, even for a coach as iron-willed as Capello, be a constant source of irritation.

Villa strokes home Spain's opener in Seville

In fairness, England did not disgrace themselves in Spain but they never really looked in serious contention either.

In Spain, the papers are touting Del Bosque’s side as “the Brazil of Europe” and, in the last year, four very different coaches have failed to devise a plan to defeat them.

In the Euros, Hiddink failed twice with Russia, as his players struggled to keep the ball, Donadoni stifled the Spanish in the quarter-final but the Azzurri were so drained they posed no attacking threat, and Low made the best fist of it with Germany, trying to seize the initiative with some fast, direct play in the final (as Andy Roxburgh, UEFA technical director points out in the latest issue of Champions) but still lost.

Capello’s plan was harder to discern. It may be he wanted England to emulate Germany (with the pace of Agbonlahor), but after about 15 minutes, the battle for midfield supremacy had been lost – and with it the game.

The only reason I’m not convinced  Spain will win the World Cup in 2010 is that, in modern times, it is rare for a form team’s reign of supremacy to last that long. France managed it in 1998 and 2000 but the norm has been for the world or European champions to hit their stride either just before or during the tournament or even – in Italy’s case in 2006 – in the semi-final.

Reasons for Brazil to be cheerful...

Brazil’s victory over Italy dispelled some of the gloom surrounding Dunga’s team. At lunch the other day with Jonathan Wilson, the football writer and author of the seminal tactical tome Inverting The Pyramid, he suggested another reason for the selecao to be optimistic.

Pausing over his croque monsieur, he pointed out that the team that won the World Cup usually had the best full-backs in the world.

Fab full-backs: The secret to World Cup success?

The record shows he has a point:

2006 Italy: Grosso, Zambrotta
2002 Brazil: Cafu, Roberto Carlos
1998 France: Thuram, Lizarazu
1994 Brazil: Jorginho, Branco
1990 Germany: Berthold, Brehme

The weakest pair of World Cup wining full-backs is 1994. But Ray Wilson and George Cohen were no slouches in 1966, Paul Breitner and Berti Vogts shone in 1974 and, in 1958, Brazil ushered in their golden age with Djalma Santos and Nilton Santos.

Djalma was the more defensive of the two but he was an effective attacker down the right, while Nilton was one of the best full-backs ever. If he had played in a more televisual age, he would be as famous as Roberto Carlos. Still, in 2010, any nation with Maicon and Daniel Alves at the back is going to have a chance.

With Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevilla, Spain are hardly under strength in this position. The sooner Capello perfects his pairing – on pure talent it would have to be Micah Richards and Ashley Cole – the better.

And finally…

The owner of my favourite football tache, Artur Jorge, has a fantastic Wikipedia page which ends: “God knows where he is now.”

You would have thought that with a moustache as luxuriant as a small forest, it would be hard for Jorge to vanish. But the veteran coach, who won the European Cup in 1987 with Porto, was last heard of in 2006/07 coaching Creteil, who now languish in France’s Division Three.

Any sightings will be rewarded with a free copy of the latest Champions.

Artur Jorge sports his famous face fungus

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