Spain not looking like champions, says Gary Lim
Shock loss to minnows Georgia highlights Spain's woes
(Tornike Okriashvili 40)
Their World Cup disaster in Brazil two years ago is starting to feel like a wound that refuses to heal.
Now, Spain will fear falling headlong into another catastrophe.
At the Coliseum Alfonso Perez in Getafe yesterday morning (Singapore time), they suffered a crushing blow to an already fragile psyche.
They must have thought a morale-boosting victory over lowly Georgia in their final warm-up match was nothing more than a formality, a morale booster that the doctor ordered.
Instead, the defending European champions suffered a humiliating 1-0 home loss to the world's 137th-ranked side.
The lack of a world-class striker continues to haunt them, ever since age and injuries caught up with David Villa after the 2010 World Cup.
A full inquiry into the shock defeat is pointless now.
With just four days to go before their opening Euro 2016 match against the Czech Republic, coach Vicente del Bosque will be feeling like a dodgy contractor trying to patch up his own shoddy work.
It wasn't an experimental side that he played against Georgia.
In fact, the starting formation looked close to the one he is expected to parade in France.
The defence, comprising goalkeeper David de Gea and the back four of Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Juanfran, is his first-choice line-up.
With Sergio Busquets and Thiago Alcantara protecting the backline and the trio of Cesc Fabregas, Lucas Vazquez and Nolito supporting striker Aritz Aduriz, Spain had more than enough firepower to take down Georgia, who had finished fifth out of six teams in Group D of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Yet, despite the clear gulf in standard, the Spaniards choked.
They had gone into the match on the back of an 11-match unbeaten streak, while Georgia's most recent game prior to this was a 5-1 loss to Romania.
Against Georgia, Spain had 76 per cent of ball possession, fired 17 goal attempts compared with Georgia's four, and registered 11 corner-kicks to none for their opponents.
But, in the end, only two statistics stood out.
Spain had 396 touches in the final third of the field, according to ESPN, and Georgia just 31.
In the end, Georgia won 1-0.
A poor error by Alba in the 40th minute allowed the minnows to start a rare attacking move from which they scored, through Tornike Okriashvili.
Spain's response to that was more of the same - plenty of possession but no end product.
The dearth in creativity and sharpness in and around the penalty area don't augur well.
The closest they came to scoring was via an Alcantara effort that struck the inside of the post in the first half.
Aduriz's lacklustre outing means Spain will be operating on a wing and a prayer during the tournament, with the not-so-prolific Alvaro Morata most likely to be the man del Bosque is counting on in their hunt for goals.
Alternatively, he can also turn to Fabregas in a false-striker system that reaped dividends for them in their Euro 2012 conquest, although it is clear the attacking midfielder is some way off the peak of his powers at the moment.
Every option del Bosque has, looks like a stop-gap measure rather than the solution.
"We shouldn't be distressed over the outcome of today's match," del Bosque said.
Brave words indeed.
But it is going to take more than courage for Spain to overcome a problem of this magnitude.
CONTRAST: A crestfallen Gerard Pique walks away after Spain’s loss to Georgia, thanks to the lone goal by Tornike Okriashvili (above, left). PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS
I don’t know. We will have to wait until Monday to see what the decision is. It’s the coach’s decision and it wouldn’t be a disappointment (not to start against the Czechs). I always work with the aim of playing.
- Spain goalkeeper David de Gea on whether he will start the opening match
Defiant del Bosque eyes hat-trick
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque insists La Roja must aim for a historic third straight European Championship win despite their embarrassing exit as holders at the World Cup two years ago.
Del Bosque's (above) men became the first side to retain the Euro title in Poland and Ukraine four years ago, but spectacularly crashed out after just two games at the World Cup after thrashings by Holland and Chile.
They also slumped to an embarrassing 1-0 defeat to unfancied Georgia in their final preparatory game yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The former Real Madrid boss resisted calls for his resignation after the World Cup humiliation to continue on for what is expected to be his swansong as coach.
However, he refused to dampen expectations after another season of dominance by Spanish clubs in Europe.
"We shouldn't set any limits," del Bosque said in an interview with AFP.
"We can't say if we get to the semi-finals we will be happy, we need to aspire to win it.
"This is sport and we don't know how far we'll go, but we need to maintain the dream to fight for a third consecutive Euro title."
Del Bosque has sought to learn lessons from the World Cup with 10 new faces among his 23-man squad after critics said he had favoured the those from Spain's glory years over youth.
Yet, five survivors remain from the start of Spain's reign of three consecutive major tournament wins at Euro 2008 in captain Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva.
Del Bosque's biggest call ahead of Spain's opening game against the Czech Republic on Monday is whether to drop 167-cap Casillas in favour of Manchester United's David de Gea.
The two shared goalkeeping duties during qualifying, but de Gea has been in far better form at club level over the past two seasons as he has won United's Player of the Year.
By contrast, Casillas' first season at Porto in Portugal, after finally ending his 19-year career at Real Madrid, has been dominated by high-profile errors.
Casillas was one of those most at fault at the World Cup, but also played a vital role in each of Spain's recent tournament triumphs and del Bosque defended one of his most loyal charges.
"What he has done is extraordinary. Whoever doesn't recognise that is being malicious," he added.
Spain face one of the toughest groups in the tournament in France as they also take on Turkey and Croatia in Group D.
And del Bosque expects an open tournament with more than eight teams capable of winning the title in Paris on July 10.
"There are very good teams, the number of sides that can aspire to the title has grown.
"We can't speak of just six or eight teams, but even more teams that have a chance for sure."
He reserved special praise for France and, in particular, coach Didier Deschamps, who was captain when Les Bleus won the last tournament they hosted at World Cup 1998.
"Naturally in France when you look at the strikers they have, the number of midfielders, they are one of the favourites.
"They have players in midfield with extraordinary potential and a sensible coach. He is doing a great job."
Del Bosque, 65, was more coy over his own future.
Arguably the most decorated coach in the game with two Champions League crowns, a World Cup and a Euro title to his name, speculation has grown in recent months that he will step aside at the end of the tournament.
Yet, the humble nature which has fostered his ability to get the best of Real Madrid's Galacticos in the early 2000s and Spain's stars later shone through as he shrugged off the magnitude of his achievements.
"It is not something we are worried about right now. It is far less important and the most important thing is the European Championship and having a good tournament.
"I am a football coach, if you have better players you are better. If we have good players then normally the coach is better." - AFP.
Watch Euro 2016 opener for free
Eleven Sports Network is offering a free trial on its new digital streaming service for the opening Euro 2016 match between hosts France and Romania on Saturday morning (Singapore time).
Simply follow these steps:
- Go to www.elevensports.sg
- Click on Euro Pass plan
- Key in promo code "ELEVENEURO"
After signing up, you will be able to watch "live" the opening ceremony, opening match, and pre- and post-match shows.
The free trial grants access to the dedicated Eleven Euro channel until noon the same day.