Spain must keep the faith
Xavi and Iniesta must make sure they don't skip a beat against Chile
SPAIN v CHILE
(Tomorrow, 3am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
The disaster of Arena Fonte Nova is still fresh in the memory,
Spain, more accustomed to the business of dishing out nightmares, were on the receiving end less than a week ago. A superb Dutch side came from behind to teach them a 5-1 lesson that opened up deep wounds.
All that pre-tournament talk about the possible end of an era for Spain has gone full steam ahead after the dreadful 90 minutes.
They now live in the harrowing knowledge that even the combination of a win over Chile tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and another against Australia in their final group fixture may not be enough to secure passage into the Round of 16.
They now need, more than ever, the midfield fulcrum of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta to rediscover the touch that laid their foundation to world domination.
Spain's defeat by Holland was so comprehensive and so inexplicable that they can compile a dossier and yet fail to come up with a definitive answer.
Coach Vicente del Bosque has come under criticism for playing Brazil-born Diego Costa in the striker's role against the Dutch, a move many saw as an attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas' abject display, when just two years ago he was voted into the team of Euro 2012 by the Uefa technical team, was another huge talking point.
Yet, it was the failing of their much-vaunted midfield, of which Xavi and Iniesta are most influential, that was particularly puzzling.
The two Barcelona pass masters were kept so quiet during the game that you could almost hear the crickets stridulate in the background.
That they could lose the midfield battle against Holland's Nigel de Jong and Jonathan de Guzman was a bolt from the blue.
At least David Silva, the third man of Spain's attacking midfield trio, was a handful for 45 minutes.
Iniesta, 30, scorer of the only goal when Spain beat Holland in the final four years ago, never got his game going despite a promising start.
Men in orange hustled him off the ball effortlessly, and gradually sucked the confidence out of his boots.
Xavi, 34, has been fighting father time for some time now, but his most recent season with Barcelona showed that he can still do a better job of controlling the centre of the park than most in the business.
He failed to show such class against Holland. For once, he let Spain down. But his World Cup swan-song need not end on a sour note.
Iniesta and Xavi are singled out here not because they were responsible for arguably their national team's biggest embarrassment in history.
It's because they hold the key that opens the door to the knock-out stages.
A younger, promising generation of Spaniards may have emerged but no one exerts the same influence, and the same cutting edge Xavi and Iniesta do.
Whoever del Bosque chooses to field up front, or without one at all - the idea of deploying a false No. 9 has been revisited - the ammunition has to come from somewhere.
The number of goals Spain can score in their next two outings will decide their fate, if it boils down to goal difference in the end.
Through six glorious years, during which Spain claimed two European Championships and one World Cup, Xavi has been the heartbeat.
He alone controls the tempo, dictates terms and, if necessary, turns the tide.
Iniesta, from a more advanced position, provides the more direct threat,
He can detect the slightest of openings to send a teammate through on goal, or go for the kill himself.
Either way, when on song, he is unstoppable. Spain need him to be, just as they need Xavi to rediscover his mojo.
Holland were the litmus test. Chile now represent the ticket to possible redemption.
Their philosophy has given them numerous triumphs in the past. That should not be forgotten. And they should not change that because of a single defeat. Spain have to think of victory and scoring goals.
- Former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, who is now with Napol
Hot Chile will not switch from attack mode
Chile's all-out attacking style may look rash to outsiders, but the team have serious ambitions after a flying start to the World Cup.
Said midfielder Arturo Vidal (above): "A lot of people say our offensive form of play makes us a somewhat suicidal team, and yes it's true, but we also play with the aim of trying to be world champions," Vidal, known as "El Rey Arturo" (King Arthur) to Chile fans, told reporters.
Chile beat Australia 3-1 in their opening Group B game, but face a more formidable rival in Spain tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
The reigning champions will be looking to put their horror start against Holland behind them with a good showing against Chile.
"It's a very difficult match against, for me, the best team in the world. We know each other well," added Vidal.
"No-one expected Holland to beat Spain 5-1. Spain still have what it takes to be world champions again, and against us they are going to come out with a lot of impetus."
Despite cartilage surgery last month, Vidal played 60 minutes against Australia and hopes to be in the line-up against Spain.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has revealed that his players have come to terms with their humiliating defeat to Holland.
"Everyone feels that we are capable of turning things around," the coach told Spanish television channel Cuatro.
"Many hours have passed and our spirits are higher. We now have to win our next two games, which won't be easy, but is within the realms of possibility.
"We are searching for the best possible preparation and we are trying to make sure the players are not sad, we have to enjoy ourselves."
Midfielder Juan Mata insists Spain should not alter their usual style of play, despite the big loss to the Dutch.
"We have to keep trusting in this style of play, it has led us to many triumphs and it allows us to control games, so I don't see a reason why we should play another way." - Wire Services.
- QUICK FACT:
Chile have drawn two and lost eight in their last 10 games against Spain.