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deVos: Spain's humiliation shows even greats have off days

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Jason deVos
6/16/2014 6:19:58 PM
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Spain's 5-1 humiliation at the hands of the Netherlands on Friday came as a shock to everyone who follows the beautiful game. It also served as a reminder that at the highest level of the game, the margin for error is incredibly small.

Up 1-0 in the first half after Xabi Alonso had converted a dubious penalty kick, Spain had a glorious chance to double their lead in the 43rd minute. An exquisite reverse pass from Andres Iniesta (pictured below) sent David Silva in alone on the Dutch goal. Unfortunately, Silva's finish wasn't up to the same standard as Iniesta's pass.

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Just one minute later, the Netherlands equalized through a spectacular Robin van Persie diving header.

With no apparent danger coming from the Netherlands, Spain set up in a very narrow defensive shape. (Spain's opponents will do well to take note – exploiting this is a key to success against the reigning World Cup champs.) Yet just two passes later, the ball was in the back of the Spanish goal.

The first pass came from Bruno Martins Indi to Daley Blind, who took up a wide position on the left flank. It was a free pass, with no Spanish player in a position to put pressure on Blind's first touch.

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Once Blind received the ball, Spain's back four was vulnerable to the diagonal ball over the top to van Persie – because Sergio Ramos, the left central defender, fell asleep and got caught ball-watching. 

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With no pressure on the ball, Blind was able to spot that van Persie managed to get a step in front of his marker, Ramos.

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The ball from Blind was exquisite, and it was matched only by the finish from van Persie - a diving, looping header over Iker Casillas in Spain's goal.

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So what could Spain have done differently?

In this situation, when the ball went wide to Blind, Gerard Pique was tight with Arjen Robben, the first striker – as he should be. His defensive partner, Ramos, needed to be in a deeper covering position, so that he could support Pique while also nullifying the threat of the ball in behind to van Persie.

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It is only a matter of Ramos being 3-4 yards deeper, but at the World Cup, that is sometimes all that is needed to create scoring opportunities. Had Spain's back-four been properly aligned (highlighted in yellow, above), Blind would never had played the ball forward for van Persie to run onto because Ramos would have been in a position to head the pass away.

This goal, scored right before the half-time break, was a real blow to Spain's confidence. From nearly doubling their lead a minute earlier, to conceding a wonder goal to the Dutch, the momentum turned in favour of the Netherlands going into the second half.

The Spanish collapse after the break – where they conceded four unanswered goals – should have been prevented, though.

The second goal was down to a combination of wonderful skill from Robben and slack marking from Pique and Ramos; the third and fourth goals down to mistakes from Casillas, with the fifth goal a classic counter-attacking move from the Dutch.

It would be naïve to presume that this result – as shocking as it was – is an indication that Spain's style of play is now ineffective. La Roja still possess a squad full of some of the world's most talented players, and they will continue to employ their 'tiki-taka' possession game to great effect. Players like Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta and Silva are still a joy to watch, and they will go into their next game with Chile knowing they must win, as a loss will effectively end their tournament.

What it does prove, though, is that even the best are fallible on an off day.

Robin van Persie (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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