The passing of the hours has started to erode the anxiety caused by Spain’s humiliating 1-5 defeat against the Netherlands in the World Cup on Friday. At team base camp in Curitiba, there is a tangible desire in the air to turn the situation around – for starters, by winning the next match against Chile on Wednesday.
The situation has something in common with the one Spain faced four years ago in South Africa, though with a few subtle differences. Back then it lost its opening game 1-0 to Switzerland and was forced to beat Honduras in order to battle for a qualification spot against Chile in the third group game. Now it also needs three points against Chile, but the five goals it conceded against Louis van Gaal’s team means it also has to win by a wide margin, something that has not come easy to La Roja of late.
In South Africa in 2010, Spain won its last-16 match, quarterfinal, semifinal and the final all 1-0
In the 88 matches overseen by coach Vicente del Bosque, Spain has hit the net 209 times, an average of 2.3 goals per game. Spain won the World Cup in 2010 with the lowest goal tally of any previous winner, scoring just seven. Since then it has played 55 matches and scored 126 times. In its eight qualifying matches to reach Brazil, it managed 14 goals with Pedro emerging as top scorer (four) followed by Álvaro Negredo (three). David Villa, with 40 of the 58 strikes that make him Spain’s top scorer of all time, is the player who has hit the back of the net most under Del Bosque’s reign, followed by Fernando Torres (20 out of 37).
In South Africa in 2010, Spain won its last-16 match, quarterfinal, semifinal and the final all 1-0. It is exactly a year since Spain last won a game by a margin of more than three goals, at the Confederations Cup, also held in Brazil, when it beat Nigeria 3-0. Leaving aside its 10-0 thrashing of Tahiti earlier in that tournament, it seems as if Spain has used its control of the game in such a way so that scoring one or two goals has always been enough to go on winning match after match.
The team, which still boasts 16 of the players who were crowned champions in South Africa, has been gradually boosting its morale since Friday’s loss, aware that giving up serves for nothing. This attitude is in part possible thanks to the anger of knowing that the Netherlands destroyed them – and in exactly the way coach Del Bosque had warned about. Sunday afternoon’s training session was spectacular for its intensity, the greatest since they arrived in Brazil.
We think we can do it. If we improve, we have chances of going through” Xabi Alonso
Xabi Alonso said on Sunday that the team had won the right to trust in itself, showing the same desire to change the air of pessimism for something more hopeful: “Soccer is unpredictable and we think we can do it. If we improve, we have chances of going through,” he said. He was certain that their response to the Netherlands was wrong, because they played with more heart than common sense, something they must not repeat against Chile. Wednesday’s game is like a Champions League knockout match, he said: “Either we win or we go home.”
Without betraying their style, Alonso added that they needed “to take a few more risks, there is always a time to do so. […] The squad is ample and there are players able to combine control with more depth. I am sure the boss is thinking about how to win the match so as to be able to score goals.”
There are no clues as to what changes Del Bosque might introduce to the line-up, but the betting in Curitiba points to him perhaps bringing in Pedro, Villa and Torres. What is not clear, though, is who he is thinking of sacrificing: whether it might be a midfielder or a central defender.
Chile is a rival that Spain knows well – it beat it 2-1 in South Africa – viewing it “as a brave team that doesn’t gamble and that will leave spaces. “That could benefit us if we don’t lose our heads,” they are saying among the players, who are ready to go out all guns blazing. It’s all or nothing: time to attack.