Spain’s shocking defeat to Chile and Netherlands meant that the defending champions were the first team officially knocked out of this summer’s World Cup.
Why few felt that this Spain side was as good as a side that won in South Africa four years ago, it was thiwr sudden demise that caught many fans off guard. But should it?
The seeds of Spain’s disappointment in Brazil were sown two years ago when Bayern Munich humbled Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final. It was clear then, that the midfield triumvirate of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta could no longer compete with the top players in the world. But Barcelona and Spain coaches ignored the warnings and shouldered on, despite more evidence in the Confederations Cup last summer and the Champions League last season that changes were needed.
But is was not just aging that caught up with Spain, it was fatigue and a drop in form. Spain’s unparalleled success has meant that this team has played in tournaments during the summers of 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. You cannot expect players to continually perform at their highest level if they have had one summer break in the last seven years.
Add in that the Spanish football federation has had its hand out, flying this team all over the world for meaningless friends in exchange for appearance fees.
But ultimately what hurt Spain was the lack of form of too many of its stars at the wrong time. Iker Casillas has been shocking in both games, showing that even goalkeepers need to play every week heading into a major tournament. If you go back to the Champions League final, that is three really bad games in a row. His international career is over and it will be interesting to see whether he leaves Real Madrid this summer.
In defence, Pique has been poor while Jordi Alba was shockingly bad against Chile. Not sure whether it is fatigue or not, but Ramos looks a yard slower in a Spain shirt this season than he did in a Real Madrid shirt.
In midfield, what does it day when two of the most expensive midfielders in the Premier League in Mata and Fabregas cannot get in the team?
Up front the Diego Costa gamble failed. Costa was a star for Atletico this season, but he is a traditional center forward, a position that is alien to the Barca based midfield. He has never looked comfortable in the tiki-taka style of play, and he has failed to deliver.
What now for Spain and coach Vicente del Bosque? Fortunately for Spain, years of Euro under 17, 19 and 21 success means that there is another group of talented young players waiting for their chance like De Gea, Bartra, Thiago and Isco making sure that the World Cup is dip for Spain and not beginning of a backward slide.