The Spanish national soccer team was shackled by so much inanity during this stormy World Cup that it basically ended up signing its own death warrant. La Roja didn’t even have to face an illustrious rival during its run of matches. It made no difference that it was facing Russia in Sunday’s Group of 16 game – a team with a similar standard as previous opponents Iran and Morocco. In these days that spelled its downfall, everyone was an Everest for the team. Unable to display proper football, Spain had no proper foundations and no solutions, and was unable to focus on the true enemy: the team itself.
What happened on Sunday was not just a case of a bad day, or a problem in the penalty shoot-out. The collapse was a multi-organ failure from day one, with the unexpected sacking of manager Julen Lopetegui after his shock announcement that he had signed with Real Madrid for next season. On the pitch, none of the players were up to the task, with a ramshackle display apart from a brief glimpse of talent against Portugal. None of the players was recognizable, despite replacement coach Fernando Hierro’s attempts to field four different lineups.
The problem was clear to see: Spain and the ball could not connect, after a decade of dalliance. It wasn’t just goalkeeper De Gea who faltered from the very first fixture. Russia, like the previous teams Spain played, is not a team with big guns. But, like those other teams, it showed La Roja up. To put the game into context, look no further than the celebrations of the home side every time their team connected a successful pass, as if they had just taken an Olympic gold. Every corner saw the volume in the stands rise. And that’s without even mentioning the mood in the Luzhniki when Russia got as far as the penalty stage. As a team, Russia was barely there. But Spain was completely absent.
What is needed now is some expert analysis on this unexpected freefall of a team that went unbeaten for so many years. The problem is that the president of the Spanish soccer federation is still very new in the post, the manager is an interim solution, and Iniesta – the player who scored Spain’s World Cup-winning goal – is hanging up his boots with the national team and is off to Japan. The situation is very serious. The team has regressed a decade. In Brazil 2014 the team lost to opponents such as The Netherlands and Chile. And in France 2016, it was Italy. But now, it seems, the time has come when La Roja can’t even hold its own against Iran, Morocco or Russia…
English version by Simon Hunter.