Spain, the tournament favourites, have yet to perform at the 2010 World Cup as we know they can. We mentioned before the tournament began that competing in a competition with several important players short of fitness and form is a recipe for disaster. Disaster, as of today, has yet to be realised but let us not be mistaken – anything but returning to Spain on the 12th July with the Jules Rimet trophy in hand will be seen as a disappointment. Spain entered the tournament as favourites, after their European Championship success in 2008, in splendid form and with a relatively easy group.
Spain have stumbled through their group matches, stuttered into the second round and will play against Portugal with half the audience expecting them to go out. Spain’s aura of near invincibility has dissipated in the space of three matches.
Fernando Torres is struggling for fitness, confidence and form. Andres Iniesta might have scored against Chile but is playing like a Chinese replica of his usual self. David Silva has been relegated to the bench, the coach Vincente Del Bosque not an especially big admirer of Silva’s refined, yet absract, talents. Cesc Fabregas, short on fitness, appears only sporadically from the bench and when he does it is apparent he has not yet found his passing boots. Iker Casillas is roundly criticised by the press and is not his typical commanding self. Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol look vulnerable in the centre of defence while Joan Capdevila and Sergio Ramos look weak against fleet footed and technical opponents, as usual.
Spain will probably continue with two holding midfielders, Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, against Portugal but the full backs, Capdevila and Ramos, will be asked to play a more withdrawn role, offering less offensive support but more defensive cover. This might make Spain a little more compact but it will only exacerbate the recent problems Spain have encountered in attack. With less offensive width, against an excellent defensive side like Portugal, Spain will continue to frustrate, meandering around the half way circle with parallel passes. Portugal, in turn, will offer little offensive threat beyond the dribbling of Danny and the direct attacking prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo. Spain are likely to struggle.
What the majority in Spain imagined would be a relatively easy task, desposing of their Iberian neighbours in the round of the last 16, now looks like a titanic task. Spain need to improve drastically and quickly if they are to stay in this competition and return to Madrid triumphantly on July 12th, averting disaster.