I guess that if a script-writer proposed a film treatment of how Spain retained the World Cup to a Beverly Hills mogul right now he’d get dog’s abuse for lacking any grip on reality and be blacklisted for taking hallucinogenic substances.
A fantasy too improbable even for Hollywood. Unless the creative kid knocked on the door of Casa Bumper Graham up on Laurel Drive.
I think it’s quite understandable if people reckon the Jacksonville Cougars or Crew Alexandra have a better chance of winning the Brazil world cup than La Roja do. Understandable if some critics think that at the World Cup the Spanish federation is sending a gentle golden labrador out to do the job of a fit young German Shepherd.
It’s all understandable – just wrong.
First, the hurdles. Unless you see them and plan for them you can’t jump them.
Spain, and all the European countries, have their major rival as Brazil. Not the team, the country. Only if you’ve researched well, planned well and probably employed a few Brazilian movers and shakers to make things move and shake for you will any side from this continent stand a chance.
The country is vast, diverse, challenging, hot, humid, rainy and a kind of Club 18-30 for mosquitos. This is where the crazy, 24-hour, tequila-fuelled mossies go to party. And I mean Paaaartaaaayy!
But, here, Spain have a tiny advantage. The Confeds Cup wasn’t a thing of beauty and joy for ever as far as Spain was concerned. Hotel problems, travel problems, humidity problems, social disorder and a spanking from Brazil in the final. But La Roja, these days, are astute learners. They’ve honed down the take-home messages, planned for them and having a ‘set’ base in Curitiba is like catnip to them. European autumnal weather, privacy. It’s the laboratory from which the tournament win will be planned. Last summer they were constantly on the road from game to game. Not this time.
The fact that there are young, hungry, athletic squads in the way of the reigning champions is another jab to the Spanish solar plexus. Holland is one, awaiting in the banana-skin first group game – Brazil another.
However this is where the Spanish talent factory has functioned. Yes, the vets will be vital. Del Bosque needs big tournaments from Iniesta (30) Alonso (32) and Casillas (33) – Xavi we will come back to. Nevertheless the ‘relevo’ is in place.
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The relief watch. In England and in Spain you’d find few, only the lame of brain, who denied that two of the players of the season were Cesar Azpilicueta and ‘Koke’. Add Jordi Alba, Diego Costa and Javi Martínez and you get a clutch of 22-25 year old talents, three of whom making their debut in a major tournament, whose talent, energy and ‘major’ experience at club level can make an enormous difference to whether or not Spain retain this trophy.
Which is where the Xavi factor comes in. It’s not a sin that, aged 34, his athleticism has changed. What Del Bosque must manage, brilliantly, is how and when to use him. Go back over the last three tournament wins and the assessment of how brilliant Xavi has been changes with retrospect compared to some of the stuff I heard spouted in real time.
But teams target him, try to pressurise him in possession and count on him NOT tracking back thus leaving opposition teams with 3 v 2 or 4 v 3 situations. Believe me, he will not be alone in putting in a few 55-65 minute matches this tournament. The concept of all the major players in any team, with the possible exception of Brazil, winning a tournament while consistently playing 90 minutes is, I think, anathema to this country’s size, geography and climate.
The key creative men will rack up several ‘impact’ performances – either the first hour or the last thirty minutes. Which is where Spain will miss Jesús Navas more than most people have appreciated. He was Del Bosque’s ‘go-to’ man. On the hour, almost every hour, he’d come on and wreak ‘Road-Runner’ havoc. For the manager this little fella is a gigantic loss. More emphasis, now, on the pace of Pedro and the potential ‘impact’ of players like Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla.
Then there is Spain’s often ineptly described playing style.
Asking La Roja to play with fizzing, daring brilliance is like letting a mugger put his hands round Adele’s larynx then asking her voice to soar and inspire. Teams routinely try to asphyxiate them, bank after bank of defense and fouls. But IF La Roja keep the ball well and make other teams work/chase in this humidity then the last 15-20 minutes of matches will yield even more Spain goals than normal.
Champions routinely go out in the group stage of the next edition of their tournament – check France in 2002, Greece in 2008, Italy in 2010. Spain have a nasty wee group but if they navigate those choppy waters then they possess a ruthless knockout mentality and …. reach the final.
Someone call Hollywood.
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