Where did Spain go wrong against Brazil? Have they been found out?

If there is one criticism about the all-conquering Spanish national team it is that they can be boring to watch. The endless passing, nice triangles and interchanging of positions are all done as they wait for the crucial moment when their opponents make a mistake and they can suddenly attack. However, as we witnessed during the semi-final of the Confederations Cup against Italy, what do they do when the rival team is well organised, disciplined and happy for them to have the ball?

The majority of people that watched that match would have expected Vicente Del Bosque’s players to take control of the game and command it from kick off. After they destroyed the Italians in the final of Euro 2012 by a heavy 4-0 score line, it would have been no surprise to see a similar result recorded. Instead we were left to view numerous Italian chances wasted and Iker Casillas much busier than Gianluigi Buffon in the first half. The Spanish looked tired and laboured and their crisp, accurate passing was not to its usual high standards.

Barcelona contributed six players to the starting eleven, although it becomes obvious just how influential Lionel Messi is to his Spanish teammates at club level when comparing the play at international level. When Barcelona have the ball, his teammates are used to playing through him as the focal point of the attack. Messi’s brilliance at running at players and dribbling past opponents allows midfielders such as Iniesta and Xavi to surge forward in support. Fernando Torres just doesn’t have the same capabilities and consequently the final third movement looks much more static and predictable for Spain. The only player that looks to attack with speed is Iniesta, but even he cannot do all the work on his own. David Silva looked lost in the semi-final and it was a surprise that he was chosen ahead of Cesc Fabregas, who has a much better understanding with the midfield trio and Pedro than his Manchester City compatriot.

Eventually they did wake up a bit and some incisive play in extra time was thwarted by poor finishing and good goalkeeping from Buffon. When they look to split a defence with quick, simple, one touch passing then there is no team in world football that can cope with them. As soon as they begin to pass it about at the back and in midfield with no urgency or depth then they look a shadow of the great team that they undoubtedly are.

Penalties decided the result on Thursday and it is fair to say that the Spanish managed to retain calmness about them, despite the poor showing during 120 minutes of football. Seven well struck spot kicks ensured passage to the final of the competition but against the host nation they once again failed to perform to the level that we have become accustomed to.

 Brazil tore them apart in the Maracana on Sunday, with quick attacks coming at them from all angles and a high pressing game preventing the passing carousel from functioning as normal. Despite Pedro missing the chance to equalise, thanks to a stunning goal line clearance from David Luiz, and a missed penalty by Sergio Ramos in the second half, Neymar and co never really looked like losing this final. Questions were immediately posed as to whether the Spaniards were tired, if the heat was too much for them, or if their time at the top has come to an end. They were undeniably poor on the night, and Brazil played the best football we have seen for years, but only a fool would rule them out of World Cup contention next year.

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