What sunk the Spanish Armada

At the Arena Fonte Nova, Spain was not just defeated. But they were humiliated. The Netherlands, who had suffered a narrow 0-1 defeat at the hands of La Roja four years ago, twisted the knife in in spectacular fashion, winning 5-1 on Saturday early morning. 

Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie scored twice each, and Stefan de Vrij was the third Dutch scorer. To understand the magnitude of Spain’s disaster, you need to look at just one piece of statistics. It was the worst ever defeat by a defending champion, but more significantly it might just have indicated the passing of a brilliant generation. 

Of course, reigning champions were defeated in the past too. Cameroon shocked Argentina in 1990, and Greece shook the world of France in Euro 2004. But seldom those teams looked so flat on the field like Spain did against Holland. They were just powerless to stop the Dutch tide. Spain’s defence looked in disarray, their midfielders were jaded and strikers blundered – it was a total burnout. 

In the past, Spain’s tiki-taka centred on Xavi but now he is 34 and gasped for breath against the electric pace of Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and van Persie. Spain still had 57 per cent of ball possession but were not effective in feeding upfront, and the mid-field control lessened further with the withdrawal of Xabi Alonso. Control was the mantra of Spanish success in the past, but they simply lacked it against Holland. 

The Spain supporters would take comfort from the fact that they had lost to Switzerland in 2010 before topping the group and winning the Cup eventually. But in that match they were plain unlucky to miss chances. Four years on, they were neither creative nor smart enough to exploit the precious few chances came their way. 

So, can they make a comeback? Their opponents now are Chile, Australia and Mexico. On a different day, Spain could have beaten them in their sleep, but now they need to refuel themselves with confidence. First, they have to think whether they need to bring in new personnel. Spain have the prodigiously talented Koke and Javi Martinez, who plays for Bayern Munich, and through them tiki-taka may survive. 

They can also look for Juan Mata, but Vicente del Bosque is not a man prone to knee-jerk reactions, and he might still go with the same group. After all, they have delivered so much for Spain in the past, but loyalty, del Bosque might think of it after the Dutch holocaust, could only take you to a certain distance. 

If it happens so, then it’s a sad way to wave off a bunch of players who will always draw comparisons with the best in the World Cup history – Brazil of 1970 and France of 1998. However, no other picture captured the emptiness in Spanish ranks as the sweat-drenched face of their custodian – Iker Casillas. 

The image was beamed right after Robben netted his second and Holland’s fifth in the 80th minute. His face revealed the inner turmoil, stemming from the searing humiliation on the world’s biggest stage, confusion, how on earth I, Casillas, one of the best, conceded five goals, and above all a touching helplessness on the face of constant, almost sadistic, Dutch onslaught. 

Casillas, in a way, was the symbol of Spain’s success – solid and swaggeringly arrogant. But Holland humbled him five times in one night. At 33 and after 155 caps, Casillas’ journey might be nearing the end. Perhaps, time has come to play a bit of tiki-taka with new talents.

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