Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Spanish Inquisition: My thoughts on Spain's loss to the Netherlands

A Spanish Inquisition
What happened to Spain in that devastating loss to the Netherlands?
by rick olivares pic by getty images

In the light of the Netherlands’ 5-1 victory of Spain in the Group B opener of the 2014 World Cup, the first and foremost question being asked is, “Is this the beginning of the end, Spain?”

Then there’s a rapid fire of follow up questions.

Why wasn’t Juan Mata sent in? Why was Iker Casillas at goal when he didn’t have a great season at Real Madrid at all? And why use Diego Costa at all?

They weren’t asking that in the first 44 minutes. So pipe down. Games can change even with one goal. Ask Croatia.

First and foremost, revenge is a huge motivating factor for anyone person or sports team. Having said that, you cannot have those studs up tackles the Dutch used to imprint themselves on Iniesta and company in the last World Cup.

The Dutch, under the creative Louis Van Gaal, borrowed the script from Brazil’s 3-0 Confederations Cup win over Spain last year. The Oranje were more attack-minded with younger legs fuelling their attack. And while Holland had some of its old warhorses making a statement in what is probably their swan song World Cup in Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben, they got some thoroughbreds in Stefan De Vrij, Daley Blind, Jonathan De Guzman, Jeremain Lens, and Joel Veltman to name a few who can run their game plan to perfection. And that Blind forward pass to Van Persie was absolutely perfect.

The aggressiveness of the Dutch on the attack as well as their choking midfield defense contributed greatly to Holland’s biggest win since dispatching Uruguay, 3-2, in the semifinals of the last World Cup.

On the other hand, the Spanish teams that headed into the Confed Cup finals and the first game of this World Cup are of two different mindsets.

During the Confed Cup, Spain was tired especially after a long affair that went into extra periods and a shootout against Italy. Quite a few players warned after the loss, “Wait ‘til the World Cup.”

To paraphrase a line from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from The Avengers, “I’m still waiting.”

In this club football season, Barcelona’s national team contingent came up silverware-less. Real Madrid’s players took home the Champions League trophy and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa helped break the Barca-Real hegemony over La Liga.

Was this team still hungry?

Sure. But is Spain like some old time boxing champ holding on for one last bout when it’s got nothing in the tank?

Not at all. They’ve still got something and until they are formally unseated then they would do well not to react with knee jerk changes. Besides, Vicente Del Bosque infused some new blood into the lineup like Cesar Azpilicueta, Diego Costa and JuanFran.

No one turns old overnight. It’s a gradual decline.

One wonders if this is the end of possession-based football as a tactic and a weapon considering foremost practitioner of tiki taka, Barcelona went trophy-less. On the other hand, Bayern Munich of which Robben plays for, won the Bundesliga behind Pep Guardiola, the man behind the success of Barca in the past six years, and new avatars of possession football.

The simple truth is Spain owned 52% of ball possession and created fewer shots 9-13 with 6 to the 11 of Holland on target.

For sure there must be some changes.

Spain after all got to the Confed Cup finals and qualified for this World Cup. They were 14-1-2 heading into Brazil (dating back to this past 2013-14 season) where they outscored opposing teams 36-9. They just ran into a determined team in Holland.

As painful as it is to point to Spain icon Iker Casillas, he must shoulder some of the blame in this galling loss to the Oranje.

Van Persie caught him off the line. Van Persie dispossessed him of a poor touch before slotting the ball into an empty net. And Robben…. the 30-year old twisted defenders and Casillas into a pretzel knot before scoring a brace himself.

Should David De Gea be at goal for their next match or is it Pepe Reina? Maybe De Gea should be given a chance as he came of age in a dreadful season for Manchester United.

Del Bosque must also ponder one of his moves. When he took out Xabi Alonso for Pedro Rodriguez there went whatever possession was left of Spain.

Costa wasn’t the only one to lose the plot. So did Xavi, Sergio Busquets, and Iniesta. The Dutch rendered the midfield maestros invisible. And when the Dutch blitzkrieg came rolling down Salvador, Brazil, Spain was helpless to stop it.

The game isn’t solely a physical and tactical one. It’s also a mental one.

They’ll have five days to get over this loss before they face Chile, 2-1 winners over Australia, in Rio De Janeiro.

More than the moves in hindsight, there are days when everything clicks and there are days when there are disasters. This 5-1 loss to Holland qualifies as the last one.

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