After four years of awesomeness Spain seems to have hit the bottom. It started off with Barcelona- that magical, uniquely Spanish team that became one of the best ever. With their pure passing and possession game, they not only won the Spanish League and Champions’ League but they also won the much under appreciated World Club Cup becoming the first European team to do so. As the World Cup started in 2010, everybody knew Spain would do well. Their starting 11 were mostly a carbon copy of Barcelona. They played the same game. Spain won the World Cup and made a mockery of Holland, who played an ugly physical game in the final.
Four years later, Spain still has arguably the greatest reserve of players of any country. Take a look at any big club and you are bound to see a few or more Spanish stars. But today, their ultimate weakness has been exposed. They are missing the guy who was there when Barcelona won it all. They guy who headed the winning goal against Germany in 2010. The guy who played every game in the last world cup. The guy who could put forwards in fear just from the sight of his hair. Who else but King Carlos Puyol. One of the greatest defenders to ever play the game. Slow of foot and speed, Puyol had real determination, intelligence and an uncanny natural gift for defense action. Without him, Barcelona looks as focused in the back as a novella plot line during Christmas. Barcelona won nothing last year as he sat it out with an injury. They finally started to “search” for a new center once it was clear Puyol would not be coming back. But it was already too late.
If you saw the Champion’s League semifinal between Real Madrid and Barcelona, you know what I mean. Who could forget that wily little Gareth Bale whizzing by a helpless Barcelona defender to score the crushing goal.
Spain are now in the same place.
With their treasure-trove of talented players, Spain surprisingly have few central defenders to replace Puyol. Against Holland, they put Pique and Sergio Ramos in the back. Ramos, also known as the butcher, is a hot shot defender who can push forward and create chances. Too bad he can’t mark as well he can run. He is known for clumsy tackles, and doe-eyed glares when he takes a player down. He is not really a full back and he is certainly no centre-half. To his side is the light-headed Pique, a man with fraction of the concentration and intelligence of Puyol. Without somebody steering the way, Pique is better off working as circus mime in Barcelona then taking over King Puyol’s shoes.
So what now? They could field an entirely new eleven players in their next group games and still win. However, they still have no centre-half. I mean Iran has center-halfs who are mediocre at best but Spain plays with converted attacking mid-fielder like Ramos and Jordi Alba. They are there because there are too many good players up front to choose from. So, they put them in the back. Big mistake. Take it from the Azzuri, put at least one good defender in the game.
How they will solve that problem this late is beyond me. That’s good news for my bookie.