25 June ~ It is a measure of Spanish concern ahead of their decisive encounter with Group H leaders Chile that the mood of the usually placid Vicente del Bosque has been a topic of debate this week. Reportedly angry at his side’s somewhat disjointed second-half performance in the 2-0 defeat of Honduras and questioned by some sections of the media for his tactics and selection choices, the Spain coach seemed to welcome the exclusive interview Marca devoted to him yesterday.
“I don’t know why, but there are people out there putting it about that I’m angry and at odds with everyone,” he said. “That’s a lie, and you can make that point very clear.” Adding to the unusual amount of conjecture about Del Bosque’s frame of mind has been the criticism still coming his team’s way from Luis Aragonés. “Spain won’t go very far playing like this,” the former national coach told viewers on Al Jazeera as La Roja laboured to victory over the Hondurans. Though continuing to avoid a debate on Aragonés’s analysis, the current incumbent accepted his side had looked “vulnerable” on Monday. “I get the feeling that if we’d played a stronger team we would have been easy to beat,” he admitted afterwards.
Adding to the concern has been Del Bosque’s alleged renunciation of the aesthetically pleasing passing game that has become Spain’s hallmark, critics pointing to their more direct approach in Monday’s second half. Starting the game with Andres Iniesta and David Silva on the bench and taking off Xavi before the end, the coach was accused of performing a volantazo (U-turn), discarding their beguiling tiqui-taca possession play for a more rudimentary Plan B, a charge he has strenuously denied.
Tactics, personnel and states of mind aside, the root cause of continuing Spanish unease is their profligate finishing. No other side had more shots on goal than Spain in their opening two games, though there is a recent precedent that ought to allay fears: Barcelona’s start to the 2008-09 season, in which they fired in over 60 shots in losing 1-0 to Numancia and drawing 1-1 with Racing Santander, was the prelude to an irresistible treble-winning surge.
The return of Iniesta, one of the inspirations of that Barça campaign, to the starting line-up for today’s clincher should mark a return to Spain’s default setting, and with the Chilean press promising to put the saucepan lid on the struggling Spanish, the European champions will not be lacking in motivation for a game against opponents they have yet to lose to in seven meetings. Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa has vowed his side will not play for the draw that will take them through. And while Spain have good reason to fear the enterprising Chileans, the extra space they should find against them might just lift everyone’s mood, Del Bosque’s included. James Calder