Tag Archives: Spain

FIFA World Cup 2018: Group B Second Matches

Portugal 1-0 Morocco: Expected Porgutal to be on the front foot and attack from the outset; I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was Morocco that went on the attack from the outset. On the rare occasions when Cristiano Ronaldo has issues finding space up front, he has no problem drifting wide left to find it. There is only one person on the field Morocco absolutely has to mark; how they left Ronaldo open in the box on the set piece header that gave Portugal the early lead I will never know. Morocco actually did a good job putting numbers in the box up front, taking some quality chances. I like how comfortable Morocco was in tight spaces, with had good movement off the ball.

The much better attacking came from Morocco, and as the game wore on they sent waves of players into the attack, doing everything they could to get opportunities in the box, keeping up the pressure, but they just couldn’t find that final touch to put the ball in the back of the net. Morocco was especially effective down the right wing with Nordin Amrabat. When Gelsin Martins came into the game in the second half, Portugal showed more forward verve on the right flank. For two games Spain and now Morocco have been taking advantage of the weak center of the Portuguese defense in Jose’ Fonte and Pepe; Morocco just couldn’t finish. A very winnable game for Morocco. I’m waiting for Portugal to show me they are more than just Ronaldo…

Iran 0-1 Spain: Since Spain was going to play their usual “tici-taci” possession-intensive style, Iran was going to be satisfied sitting back and staying in front of the Spanish attack. It was up to Iranian Saeid Ezatolahi in the center of midfield to keep Diego Costa and Andres Iniesta out of the box. Things got snippy, which made sense; Iran doesn’t have the futbol quality that Spain has, so they threw their weight around. The problem was that when you give up so much possession to Spain, they eventually find a way to get the ball through. I know you want to keep your discipline and shape, but at a whopping 82% possession by Spain early, it would probably help if you had the ball at some point [sarcasm intended]. Winger Ramin Rezaeian finally got on the end of one for Iran, their first shot on goal in the 51st minute.

La Furia Roja patience paid of in the 53 minute by the opener by Diego Costa, his third goal (of course, it was Iniesta that provided it). You could make the argument that the best player on the pitch today was Isco, who found some space on the left side to keep possession and get in the final third. A VAR review took an Iranian set piece goal off the board, which I’m sure will bring a lot of criticism and controversy. The goal by Spain certainly opened up the game for Iran, who closed down Spanish players with the ball, gained possession and started getting the ball quickly forward into the box. Spain wanted to sit back and run out the clock after their goal, but Iran wouldn’t let them, and the game turned into a track meet the last 20 minutes. Got the sense that Spain was more relieved this game finally ended rather than feeling victorious.


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World Cup 2018: Group B First Matches

Morocco and Iran led off Group B play.  This game offered both teams their best chance to win a game in group play as neither is expected to do well against Spain and Portugal.  Morocco had superior speed and tried to use it to their advantage with long passes into the corners for their wings.  Unfortunately, this speed and some sloppy Iranian defense did not translate into good shots.  Morocco simply lacks a good finisher.  Too many of their shots were off target or directly at Iranian defenders.  On defense, the Moroccans tend to group together leaving large patches of the pitch unattended.  Iran was quick on the counterattack, but could only manage two on-target shots in the match.  Iran managed one good sequence late in the first half, but the Moroccan goalie proved up to the task, blocking one point blank shot and a second follow up rebound shot.  In the second half, Morocco really controlled possession, but managed very few scoring opportunities.  Neither team could put together sustained sequences.  Too many passes and shots were off target.  Perhaps fittingly, however, Morocco lost the game 4 minutes into extra time, on an own goal.  A Moroccan defender attempted to head out an Iranian free kick into the box, but instead put the ball past his own goalie.  All in all, a pretty ugly game to watch.

Portugal and Spain, the favorites, met with Group B and Iberian Peninsula supremacy on the line.  Portugal pressed the attack early on and Cristiano Ronaldo drew a penalty kick three minutes in with a step over move to beat a defender in the box who was then forced to foul him.  Ronaldo absolutely drilled the penalty kick into the upper right corner of the goal for the early lead.    The Portuguese kept up the pace, winning headers and generally looking more hungry.  However, midway through the first half, Spanish striker Diego Costa did some fancy dribbling around a few defenders and then blasted through the equalizer.  After that, the Spaniards took control of the game and nearly scored a few more goals with near missed shots.  In the last few minutes of the first half though, Portugal regained its composure and began placing pressure on the Spanish defense again.  Ronaldo managed a half foot of space for a turn around shot in the box which rocketed off the hands of Daniel De Gea, the Spanish goalie for a go ahead goal.  Despite the oomph on Ronaldo’s shot, De Gea really should have made the save. 

Early in the second half, Spain again got an equalizer on a beautiful floating free kick to the right side of the Portuguese goal, which was then headed back to the middle where Costa ran onto it for the easy goal.  Just a few minutes later, Nacho Hernandez hit a screaming volley off a rebound from just outside the box that hit the left post and went in, giving Spain its first lead.  Although Spain continued to control possession throughout the second half, Portugal managed a free kick with only a few minutes remaining.  Cristiano Ronaldo proved his reputation as one of the best two players in the world by bending the kick around the wall and into the upper right corner of the goal for the third tie of the game and a hat trick for Ronaldo.  The goalie barely moved on the kick as he immediately realized he had no chance at it.  Time ran out soon after and left neither team in control of the group yet.  Goal differential may prove to be the difference between first and second place in Group B, so expect to see both teams run up the score when they play Morocco and Iran.  This was the most entertaining game to watch in the first two days of the Cup.


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Spain: Making Up For Lost Time

No Carles Puyol, no David Villa – no problem…


In a European Championship long on drama but short on wow, Spain’s final emasculation of storied futbol powerhouse Italy extended a welcome exclamation point. But more importantly, Spain’s record-breaking third major international championship in a row did two over-arching things: (1) it put to rest the notion that La Furia Roja’s short, crisp and precise passing, quick, suffocating defense and intricate midfield-intensive possession game was so much more than it’s boring, negative reputation; and (2) it was a reverberating announcement to the rest of the world that the longest rule by any futbol side, club or national, would continue.


This was not the flashiest team to watch – ergo their reputation for being mundane and boring – and this clearly was not the team we’ve seen through the two previous editions that waltzed through the last European Championship and South Africa 2010, but this was the efficient, even-keeled team we’ve come to expect from a team headed by Vicente del Bosque. Not only has no team in European Championship history scored more goals, but no team has ever allowed fewer. In three major international tournaments across four years, La Furia Roja has not allowed a single score in any elimination game.


Stated simply, you can’t score on them; you can’t even get the ball from them. And what’s worse, not only do THEY know it, but so do their opponents.


Even in games in which Spain has scored one or no goals, they are so frustratingly suffocating as to be demoralizing. Need proof? Just ask Portugal.


If this is boring, then so be it, because Spain makes this work to perfection, and have created an international dynasty the likes of which nobody has ever seen in futbol. This may not be pleasing to watch, but neither was “Moneyball”, a way of playing baseball that received the same kind of negative response from insiders and observers yet in driving three teams to several world championships became the primary business paradigm of Major League Baseball. If the keepers of futbol are really paying attention, “tiki taka” futbol, as the Spanish style has come to be referred, should be the preferred paradigm worldwide for the next generation.


Spain’s label as classic and perennial under-achievers – a designation earned from having world-class talent and world-class ability to seriously challenge for international hardware yet figuring out some way of screwing it up for 44 years – has long since been put asunder. Their iron-fisted rule of international futbol for going on six years now makes their previous reputation seem like ancient history given their current master class the likes of which has never been seen.


Since being unceremoniously drop-kicked out of the 2006 World Cup, the national side that surly, intense former manager Luis Aragones and calm, laid-back current manager del Bosque have put together have simply been invincible. That’s because Aragones and del Bosque have instilled in Spain the one necessary trait that had been lacking those previous lost 4 decades: An undeniable believe in themselves and a refuse-to-lose quality.


It is quite clear that the whole that is La Furia Roja – though loaded with star-quality and world-class players – is greater than the sum of its part. Even without the aforementioned world-class players in Puyol and Villa, Spain managed to waltz through this tournament. Part of the reason they were labeled as boring and negative may be because they never gave the appearance of playing with any urgency – they always looked like they were just mailing it in. Such was the belief in themselves and confidence in their system: Lose Puyol and Villa? No problem. Just plug in Sergio Ramos and David Silva and soldier on.


The team everybody was expecting to meet Spain in the final, Germany, has now assumed the mantle of under-achievers. While having won international hardware more recently during Spain’s lost decades, in 5 of the last 6 international tournaments dating back to 2002 they’ve been expected to feast on international competition with their new wide attacking style that runs opponents to exhaustion. Yet every time Germany has gotten to the threshold of greatness they’ve been denied by some motivated upstart that chose that particular moment to play way above what was expected (Brazil in 2002, Italy in 2006, Spain in 2008 and 2010). This year was no different, with a German side hitting on all cylinders getting unceremoniously drop-kicked out of the tournament in the semis by an Italian side in disarray coming into the Euros yet finding some unknown form through 4 games.


So it was left to the Italians — with their quick-strike counterattack anchored by surging Andrea Pirlo and Mario Baloteli, and the past masters of the fabled lockdown defense known as catenaccio – to finally put an end to this boring football employed by the Iberians –


— Italy never stood a chance…


Spain clearly saved the best for last. Like a hawk picking apart a rat carcass, that La Furia Roja mechanically and methodically picked apart one of history’s three most powerful, successful and storied national sides so spectacularly and stunningly was nothing short of embarrassing.


In establishing what is clearly the longest running international dynasty, del Bosque set a record of his own. He became the first futbol manager to hit the trifecta: a club world championship (with Real Madrid), an international continental championship, and an international world championship. It’s about time we started mentioning del Bosque in the same rarefied air as Alex Fergusen, Alf Ramsey and Mario Zagalla.


Is Spain the best national side ever? This is a team loaded with star-quality and world-class players, what you expect historic national sides such as Brazil ’58-’62 (Pelè, Garrincha, Didi), Brazil ’68-’72 (Pelè, Jairzinho, Rivelino), Germany ’72-’76 (Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Mueller, Sepp Maier), Argentina ’78 and ’86 (Diego Maradona, Mario Kempes, Daniel Passarella) and France ’98-’00 (Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram) to have. But while Spain has enjoyed the longest continuous tenure of winning of any of the aforementioned national sides, the national sides that Spain has had to beat, while good in their own right, don’t rise to the quality of the opposition those other international dynasties had to face…


…But go to South America two years hence for the 2014 World Cup and defeat the purveyors of la joga bonita on their home soil in the hemisphere that no off-hemisphere side has ever won, then the case for Spain as the best ever would be sealed.


– daveydoug