World Cup 2014: Spain on the brink ahead of Chile match as positivity masks the possible end of an era

Humiliating 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands may be too much to come back from

Spain were spinning as positive a message as possible in the Maracana on Tuesday, but couldn’t negate the nature of that devastating 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands. “A result like that leaves you with no argument,” Andres Iniesta flatly acknowledged.

Well, not quite. It does give rise to one rather big argument. Is this the end for this team? Will that atrocious opening to this World Cup lead to the elimination of the defending champions in their second group game against Chile on Wednesday, and thereby the end of an era?

Read more: Match report - Spain 1 Netherlands 5
Not even Google can be bothered to pronounce Cesar Azpilicueta
Spain v Chile match preview

Because, in some ways, the most striking aspect of the opening loss was not even the stunning result. It was the remarkable pattern of play that led to it, and the uncomfortable reality that it could really have been so much worse. Two images remain beyond the brutality of the figures on that Salvador scoreboard.

The first is Arjen Robben simply searing past the Spanish back line, and their defenders proving unable to do anything to keep him out, or even keep up. The second is the complete breakdown those runs caused in Vicente del Bosque’s side.

The way in which the Netherlands came from 1-0 down to quickly lead 2-1 was the first time that Spain had gone ahead in a competitive game and still lost since 6 September 2006, in a 3-2 defeat away to Northern Ireland.

Since then, the quality and control of their passing game has been the closest thing to a cast-iron guarantee the international game has seen. Once they went in front, you could be virtually certain they would not give the ball away, or the lead.

Last Friday in Salvador, however, it was as if that unprecedented and unexpected turn-around delivered much more than a Dutch lead. It was a body blow which shook Spain to the core and may well have a deeper psychological effect.

How does a team previously so dominant even begin to recover from a dismal thrashing like that? Everything they previously knew was forgotten. The doubt that spread through the team was all too visible.

That is the biggest issue. They are going to have to recover from that before they even start to fix the other stack-load of actual football problems in the team.

For Spain’s part, they said all the right things. The surprising optimism of Iniesta and Del Bosque was evident the moment they came out for their pre-match press conference.

Iniesta was asked how he was feeling after such a fierce beating. “I feel like we are prepared to win,” the Barcelona playmaker responded. “It’s hard to return to normality, like it was before the first game but I also feel what happened has to be in the past.

“It’s clear it was a very hard blow, a very bad result above all but, in difficult situations, you just have to give your best to fix the situation.”

Vicente del Bosque Vicente del Bosque  

The key question is whether their best is still good enough. Spain’s possession game was always hugely dependent on the drive and intensity that went along with it, but it’s somewhat inevitable that will wane after six years of unprecedented success. Once the rot sets in, it also becomes very difficult to do anything about, no matter the age or status of the players. Something intangible evaporates.

In that, there is potential that the nature of the defeat to the Dutch could actually be a positive. It could rock them enough to produce a real response. Del Bosque hinted at a previous absence of any kind of productive tension. “I think it’s good to have a bit of anxiety, but always a bit controlled,” he said.

Iniesta similarly pointed to the urgency of the situation in their remaining group games. “We have two finals,” he said. “We have been in these situations before in the last World Cup.”

To do that, however, they may be forced to drop some of the stars of that World Cup. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas made far too many errors, Xavi had too small an impact, Gerard Pique particularly struggled with Robben’s pace.

Chile's national football team midfielder Arturo Vidal (L) controls the ball as his teammate forward Alexis Sanchez (R) watches on during a training session Chile's national football team midfielder Arturo Vidal (L) controls the ball as his teammate forward Alexis Sanchez (R) watches on during a training session  

The problem today is that Chile are capable of going at Spain in a similar way, and have an attacker with similar speed in Alexis Sanchez. The suggestions from the camp are that Javi Martinez will come in to anchor defence, and Xavi may be dropped, possibly for Atletico Madrid’s Koke.

Del Bosque would not be drawn on his line-up, but did admit that they may have to at last compromise – if not change – their style in order to conquer Chile. “They are valiant, aggressive and take risks,” he said. “We have our own identity and can’t lose it. We have to mix it with another style of play, without affecting us, but still being able to damage them.”

Fernando Torres put that in even starker terms. “We win our way... but, if we can’t win like that, we just have to win.” Right now, that is the only argument that matters.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
Out and about: for 'Glee' character Bert Hummel, having a gay son was a learning curve
lifeEven 'cool' parents need help parenting gay teens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible