21 June ~ Continuity has been a hallmark of Vicente del Bosque's two-year tenure as Spain coach. Even in the wake of last Wednesday's defeat to Switzerland there is no chance of the gruff 60-year-old ordering his side to abandon their aesthetic principles when they take on Honduras on Monday. Nor is there any clamour for them to do so, despite concern about their sometimes laboured build-up play against the Swiss and idle gossip about reporter girlfriends supposedly distracting goalkeeper boyfriends. The model laid down by Luis Aragonés has proved hugely successful since Del Bosque's appointment, and the Spanish are sticking to it.
The media reaction to the Durban defeat reflected that unshakeable commitment to possession-based football. At previous World Cups, referees have often been identified as scapegoats for Spanish setbacks. And while Howard Webb won few admirers for his permissive refereeing in Durban, the national press were in unusually objective mood after la selección's statistically impressive but largely ponderous performance against Switzerland. Reflecting the general tone, Marca's Roberto Palomar criticised the side for playing with the "speed of a cruise ship" and for their "barroquismo excesivo" (a tendency to over-elaborate).
Perhaps the harshest comments have come from Del Bosque's immediate predecessor, who is commentating at the finals for Al Jazeera. Lamenting Spain's predictability and lack of pace, Luis Aragonés enigmatically concluded that the problem "comes from way back". The self-styled wise man of Spanish football was believed to have been referring to pre-tournament euphoria, though given Spain's embarrassment of riches and their recent record, what euphoria there has been is surprisingly restrained in comparison to the boundless optimism that preceded ill-starred campaigns of the past.
Typically, Del Bosque refused to be drawn into a debate on Aragonés's observations. Still digesting the lessons of their false start, the coach has chosen to spend the last few days poring over re-runs of the 1-0 loss to the Swiss, intent on avoiding a repeat against the Honduras and Chile. Likely to replace Sergio Busquets with Cesc Fabregas in a bid for greater verticalidad against the central Americans, Del Bosque will be looking for his side to rediscover the incisive football that took them to South Africa.
Achieving that should not be too difficult. Unlike Raymond Domenech and Fabio Capello, Del Bosque is not under pressure to change core strategies. And though la Roja's future opponents have been emboldened by an unexpectedly early demonstration of their fallibilities, with Honduras coach Reinaldo Rueda declaring that his side have already lost to the best team in the section, the fact remains that Spain's few recent defeats have been followed by lengthy unbeaten runs.
As Del Bosque reminded his players at the weekend, a six-game winning sequence will make them world champions. For all their problems against the Swiss, there is little question his squad retain the ability and self-belief to achieve it. James Calder