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Dublin: 20 °C Friday 25 May, 2018

5 reasons why Spain failed so badly at this World Cup

The defending champions went out at the group stages after a lacklustre performance against Chile last night.

Image: EMPICS Sport

1. Problems with strikers

VICENTE DEL BOSQUE opted to bring four strikers in the shape of Diego Costa, David Villa, Fernando Torres and Pedro to the World Cup with Manchester City’s Alvaro Negredo and Juventus target man Fernando Llorente the big names to miss out.

Costa, having switched allegiance from his homeland Brazil before making his Spanish debut back in March, was to be the final piece of the jigsaw after bagging 36 goals for Atletico Madrid en route to a La Liga title and Champions League final.

Unfortunately, his ongoing hamstring problems became a major worry going into the tournament and the decision to start the 25-year-old in the opening two matches proved a spectacular failure. On both occasions, he was withdrawn just after the hour mark and replaced by an out-of-sorts Fernando Torres — who also offered little.

2. The goalkeeper situation

With 156 caps to his name, goalkeeper Iker Casillas is the squad’s most experienced player and in fact Spain’s all-time record caps holder.

However, the 33-year-old was far from his best at club level last season and proved a liability in the loss to the Netherlands by gifting them a couple of goals in what he described himself as “the worst performance of his career”.

Del Bosque showed blind loyalty by choosing to stick with the Real Madrid veteran against Chile despite having options in David de Gea and Pepe Reina. Last night, the decision proved costly as Casillas could only punch Alexi Sanchez’s free-kick — which allowed Aranguiz to score Chile’s second goal.

3. Too many of their players were out of form

It is hard to deny that Spain are blessed with an abundance of talent throughout their squad. Football isn’t played on paper, however, and several of their stars simply didn’t show up in Brazil. Casillas has already been discussed but reliables such as Xavi, David Silva, Jordi Alba and Xabi Alonso were all uncharacteristically below-par.

Centre half pairing Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos were also extremely poor against Holland, which prompted Del Bosque to drop Pique for Javi Martinez.

As a result, a team who were once famous for their confident tiki-taka style and high-intensity pressing game looked laboured and well out-of-sorts.

4. Reluctance to blood more youngsters

La Roja have had a considerably settled squad during the most successful period in their history with many of the same group winning two European championships and a World Cup.

The average age is 28.24 — the eighth oldest at these finals. And while hindsight is a great thing, failure to blood more of last year’s U21 European championship-winning side may have cost them dearly.

22-year-old Koke, who came on last night, was the exception while Thiago Alcantara may have featured but for a knee ligament injury but whoever is in charge of Spain for the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers needs to blood the likes of Isco, Jese Rodriguez, Daniel Carvajal, Iker Muniain and Alvaro Morata.

5. It’s the end of an era

Alex Ferguson once said: “I always believe a four-year cycle is probably the most you can achieve. There are very, very few teams who can create more than a four-year cycle.”

Having been the perennial underachievers for what felt like an eternity, Spain’s golden generation ended a 44-year drought by winning a major tournament at Euro 2008 before going on to claim an unprecedented three on the bounce.

The 2014 World Cup may be a write-off but Spain’s status as a footballing heavyweight remains — they are still European champions at senior and U21 level while La Liga clubs currently hold both the Champions League and Europa League.

That said, it does seem like the end for many in this group. After Carles Puyol’s recent retirement, others like Xavi and Casillas could follow suit by packing in international football while Del Bosque future is unclears as he insisted last night that he will take time out to reflect on his position as international manager.

Red hot Chile pressure gets to Spain as holders crash out of the World Cup

Snapshot: 10-year-old Dubliner Ciarán Duffy winks at the world from the Maracanã pitch

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Ben Blake

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