Spain is in crisis at World Cup

Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

Here’s what happened on Friday at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, in case you missed it…

The result

Read match reports: Mexico 1, Cameroon 0 in Natal || Spain 1, Netherlands 5 in Salvador || Chile 3, Australia 1 in Cuiaba

Thoughts on the day

Big win for Mexico: With Brazil expected to finish first in Group A, second-place is a three-horse race. A loss would have been devastating for Mexico, who still has to face Brazil and Croatia. So this was a huge win for El Tri—earned in large part because of the attacking efforts of Oribe Peralta (manager Miguel Herrera’s decision to start him ahead of Javier Hernandez proved astute) and Giovani dos Santos—who overcame some crunching Cameroonian tackles and brutal calls. For the second day in a row, poor decisions from the officials were a major talking point. Dos Santos scored two first-half goals, both legit, that were not given because of incorrect offside calls. In the end, Mexico won, but those two goals could come in handy in a group where goal difference might be a deciding factor. Credit to Herrera’s men for not getting frustrated and eventually breaking down the Africans and earning a deserved three points.

Spain is in crisis: No, that’s not an exaggeration. A historical capitulation against a marvellous Dutch team has put the world champions on the ropes after only one game. Sure, Spain lost its opener to Switzerland four years ago and rebounded to win the World Cup. In South Africa, though, Spain did everything but score while totally outplaying the Swiss. This was something completely different. The Spaniards were completely dominated and torn apart by the flying Dutch. Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben combined well with Daley Blind, the trio making the Spanish triumvirate of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alsono look ordinary by comparison. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos were out of sync in the centre of defence. Diego Costa offered next to nothing up front, as did his replacement Fernando Torres. And the less said about the usually-reliable Iker Casillas the better.

Spain manager Vincente del Bosque has a Herculean task ahead of him. He has to take this shell-shocked group of players, whose confidence will no doubt be brittle after this demolition job, and stuff the guts back into them before next Wednesday’s game against Chile. He also has some very hard decisions to make. Does he start Casillas? Or does he go with Pepe Reina or David De Gea? Should Costa start again? Does he use the “false nine” formation he used to such great effect at Euro 2012? One way or another, Del Bosque has to figure it—and fast. Otherwise, Spain could be eliminated after only two games.

Brave effort from Aussies: Ahead of Friday’s Group B action, it looked as though Australia was the most likely team to get stuffed and suffer a heavy loss. Instead, it was Spain. The Aussies conceded three times—including a pair of goals inside the opening 15 minutes. But Tim Cahill’s goal in the first half certainly made things interesting and gave his country some life. After that, the Socceroos more than held their own against a Chile side that came flying out of the gate and showed why its all-out-attack reputation proceeds them—Chile is going to be one fun team to watch in this tournament. An injury-time goal from the South Americans was harsh on Australia, who showed great character and grit in making this a closer game than the final score suggests. Maybe Australia won’t be the patsy of this group after all.

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Stat of the day

Goal of the day

Robin van Persie scored the goal of the tournament thus far just before halftime for the Netherlands. Daley Blind delivered a great cross-field ball into the box from the halfway line and van Persie connected on a diving, looping header that beat Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas

Save of the day

Jasper Cillessen came up big in the 43rd minute to keep the Netherlands in the game. Andres Iniesta played a beautiful through ball for David Silva who broke in alone on goal. The Manchester City star tried to chip Cillessen who stood tall and swatted the ball away.

Match of the day

Chile went up 2-0 over Australia after only 14 minutes, and it looked as though we had a rout on our hands. But the Socceroos nicked a goal through Tim Cahill in the 35th minute, and neutral fans ended up being treated to an entertaining, end-to-end contest.

Best moment of the day

It was raining in Natal ahead of the Mexico-Cameroon game. Not your average rain either—it was coming down with Biblical fury. That didn’t dampen the mood inside the stadium, though. Fans were dancing and partying in their seats a full 30 minutes before kickoff as the rain came lashing down.

He said it

“This is a very delicate moment for us, and all of us have to find a way to solve it.” – Vicente del Bosque, Spain manager

Question of the day

Tweet of the day

Just like they wrote it up on the chalkboard before the game:

3 stars

1) Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie: Both bagged a brace for the Dutch, and ripped Spain’s feeble defence to ribbons with their penetrating runs.
2) Daley Blind: He delivered many dangerous passes, including a pair of absolute defence-splitters that led to the Netherlands’ first two goals.
3) Giovani dos Santos: Oribe Peralta scored Mexico’s goal, but dos Santos was El Tri’s main creative force and most dangerous player.

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