The end of a dynasty is never quick and painless. It’s a long and sad process. Heroes are riddled with blame and great men are discarded. Everyone watches as the walls come tumbling down.
That was Spain against the Netherlands on the second day of the 2014 World Cup in Salvador. It was a gory, bloody, magnetic horror show. There was no denying Holland’s exhilarating brilliance, and also no denying that the end for Spain is no longer an abstract idea.
Spain’s dynasty teeters on the edge of oblivion.
The signs were there as long ago as last summer when Brazil dismantled Spain in the Confederations Cup Final. It was the day Spain lost their title as World Cup favorites, and Brazil reestablished themselves on the world stage.
But that was, for Spain’s intents and purposes, a friendly tournament contested by a team exhausted from the long European season. Playing Brazil in the Maracana was never going to be an easy task.
This was different. This was another European team in the Brazilian heat, and a team not even fancied to advance from the group stage at the World Cup. To think Spain had the lead in the game through a dubiously won penalty is slightly staggering when you consider the extent of their demolition in the second half.
Spain weren’t just beaten. They were exposed.
They’ve always been the most patient team around, preferring a 1-0 result to anything else. Possession was their best defense. Spain played the long game.
But recently, their vulnerability has shown. Spain were blitzed by the passion and intensity and physical prowess of Brazil, and the same thing happened against Holland. Spain was helpless to stop the onslaught in both games.
Who’s next for Spain? Chile, a team some have called the most attacking in the entire tournament. Chile doesn’t stop going forward, they run their 3-5-2 at a ferocious pace when their clicking, and have the pace to torment a much older opposition.
If Chile – at home in South America and comfortable winners in their first test against Australia – win, Spain are out. The end. It would be goodbye to one of the greatest international teams ever.
That’s how close Spain is to the brink. They don’t have a good matchup. Morale is low and real self-doubt is present for the first time in almost a decade.
To survive and stave off elimination, this team has to dig deep. They have to show a different side to the reserved, composed, cosmopolitan team we’ve seen pick apart sides terrified of coming at them since they won Euro ’08.
Chile won’t have any fear. No top teams will anymore.
Do Spain have another gear in them? They won all their knockout games at the last World Cup by a score of 1-0, but 1-0s don’t appear to be an option anymore.
Can Spain outscore a team? Can they outrun a team? Can they out-grit a team? Do they have anything left, or are the likes of Xavi and Iker Casillas a spent force with nothing left to give, waiting to be put out of their misery?