“Change” and “stability,” while obviously completely contrasting concepts, are both vital in soccer. Most would agree with the notion that a successful team is built upon the appropriate amount of each, but it’s a precarious balance to strike. After all, too much change and the players will lack familiarity and cohesion. Too little and a squad can become damagingly stale.
The latter of the two was on show in earnest as Spain kicked off the defense of their world title in Brazil. The nexus of players that have been so consistent, so wonderful and so successful suddenly looked decayed; they were blown away by a Netherlands team bristling with fresh faces and youthful exuberance.
Against Chile, while Vicente Del Bosque made a couple of changes to his starting XI, he remained loyal to a host of players that have served him so well in the past two tournaments, and to Luis Aragones in the years preceding that. Spain needed a result after all, and those players had the experience to get it; they’ve done it before. Unfortunately for the legendary boss, it cost him.
Iker Casillas was badly at fault for the second goal, David Silva failed to make an impact and Xabi Alonso was dragged off at half time. The team as a collective were without spark and they were lackadaisical off the ball, when in years gone by they had been relentless in their pressing. They lost 2-0, becoming the first holders in history to become the first team knocked out of the tournament.
Both Netherlands and Chile showed them up. Not courtesy of any great tactical master-plans or due to a conspiring of bad luck; they were quite simply faster, stronger and hungrier. The defending champions scored one goal—a penalty—and conceded seven in their two games. They have emitted an aura of cautiousness and complacency throughout this World Cup.
“Tiki-taka, ta’ra!” as Gary Lineker put it as the BBC signed off their coverage of the game.
And despite Spain’s exceptional spell of longevity at the peak of international soccer, there is a warning for all, here. The modern game moves so quickly and Spain have stagnated. There is by no means a shortage of young talents coming through the ranks, but the unshakeably loyal Del Bosque hasn’t blooded them in competitive action.
And that brings us onto the second of the aforementioned concepts: change. Where do the Spanish go from here? Del Bosque’s future will naturally be a case for debate, but whoever takes this team forward must look long-term.