A leaky defence, a shaky goalkeeper and dubious tactics could see La Roja going home early.
Spain qualified for the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup after finishing at the top of Group B ahead of Portugal, Iran and Morocco. While La Roja might have bettered their previous World Cup outing, they have been far from convincing and have been guilty of leaking goals clumsily.
Since the appointment of former Real Madrid and Spain captain Fernando Hierro as the interim manager, things have looked hard to fall in place for La Roja. The team has looked far from their best and have struggled with the form of some key players and the news of a rift between one of the senior players and the coach has not helped in any way.
Spain conceded just three goals throughout qualifying and Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in their tournament opener
Spain’s defending has been shambolic throughout the three games. While they were lucky to escape the Iran game without conceding any, Portugal and Morocco made them pay for their mistakes. Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo to be precise, scored thrice against them and Morocco found the net twice. If conceding sloppy goals wasn’t enough, the manner in which those goals were conceded is a major concern.
Ronaldo was awarded a penalty for a silly foul on him by Nacho, while the second goal was what on any other day wouldn’t have been a goal. Spain were lucky that VAR ruled the Iranian goal offside and that Diego Costa scored a fortunate strike for them. Khalid Boutaib was allowed to make free runs and be in a one-on-one situation with goalkeeper David de Gea twice in the first half alone. Clearly, a team with the defensive line consisting of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid have got to do better than that.
Had it not been for the wit of Iago Aspas, Spain would have been knocked out in the group stage for the second time running
Hierro doesn’t look like a coach who has a clear way about how his team has to approach games. While he is still confused about whether to play direct football or to pass it around and build-up play slowly, he has also been questionable with his team selection. All the three games have seen La Roja playing with a different midfield and there’s no specific role given to Andres Iniesta in the larger scheme of things. While against Portugal, he was playing from deeper positions, against Morocco he was asked to fill up the flanks and cut inside from the left.
Fancied players like de Gea and Iniesta (barring the Morocco game) have been below their usual best and youngsters like Saul Niguez, Alvaro Odriozola and Marco Asensio have found playing minutes hard to come by. The selection of Nacho over arguably La Liga‘s best right-back Odriozola in the Portugal game raised many eyebrows and him giving away the penalty didn’t help much.
The news that the team is unhappy with Hierro and his tactics has already been doing the rounds. The rumours that Diego Costa and the tactician got into a war of words after the game against Portugal has cast further doubts over the contentment of the players with the coach’s playing style.
While La Rojas might have already done better than what they did last time around, there’s still a lot to prove and a lot to be done to redeem the lost respect after the horrific outing of 2014. However, with Hierro, it seems that the challenge has certainly become more strenuous for them.
The team that Julen Lopetegui made almost unbeatable seems to have gone with him and there’s this new team that’s struggled to win games in the group stages. By sacking Lopetegui, the Spanish FA might have taken away the chances of Spain reclaiming the biggest prize in international football.