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June 19th, 2014
11:59 AM ET

Brazil 2014: The reasons for Spain's World Cup pain

Hours after Spain's new monarch ascended to one throne, the kings of football - the Spanish nation's pride and joy - were being knocked off theirs.

And while I agree with those citing tiredness as a cause, I think any fatigue was more in the mind than the body.

You only had to look at the demeanor of goalkeeper Iker Casillas to see he was suffering from the sporting equivalent of post-traumatic stress; shellshock brought on by the explosive nature of conceding five goals against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup winners' opening game.

There wasn't enough left in the tank after burning through gallons of emotional gas for his club Real Madrid during a sentimental Champions League triumph which secured "La Decima" - a 10th European Cup title. I was there watching the all-Spanish affair in Lisbon where Real and Atletico Madrid's players gave their all.

Half a dozen from that match, played only three and a half weeks previously, were in Spain's squad to face Chile on Wednesday. A further seven were from Barcelona, carrying a different form of mental baggage - the strain of defeat after letting the Primera Liga title slip from their grasp.

Even Diego Costa was left scarred from a grueling, if successful, season. The Brazil-born striker scored 36 goals in all competitions for Spanish champions Atletico but hadn't even managed a single shot on target by the time his adopted country was eliminated from the World Cup.

But fatigue, whether mental or physical, can only partly explain Spain's astonishingly early exit – so unexpected that even Pele, earlier that day, was talking to CNN about the 2008 and 2012 European champions' chances of winning the competition.

Plenty of other top nations, particularly European ones, can point to squads littered with players wearied by long campaigns with their clubs. However, none of Germany, England, France, Holland, Italy and Belgium has won a major international title in the last six years. Whereas Spain has won them all.

The other major European squads contain plenty of players with over half a century of matches to their names this season but they are also men with enough motivation to counter the miles in their legs. They dearly want to help their countries end long waits for international success.

Spain's squad had nothing left to prove. They weren't the oldest squad. In fact, they weren't even among the top-10 sides with the highest average age. But they were the most experienced set of players.

Read: Spain's exit in numbers

And while that bestows a certain knowledge, it also becomes a handicap when you've seen it all before and need to find a different source of inspiration.

It's the end of an era, with many suggesting the so-called "tiki-taka" tactic of pass and move has become dated. It's symbolic that one of its best exponents, veteran Barcelona playmaker Xavi Hernandez, is about to leave Spain for a club in Qatar. The 34-year-old was also dropped from the starting lineup against Chile.

This is a man that topped the passing stats in South Africa's World Cup four years ago, someone who gave away possession as rarely as Cristiano Ronaldo forgets to brush his hair.

As Spanish football journalist Aitor Alvarez told CNN after the Chile match: "They are the same players that six years ago won their first European Championship. We need new players, we need younger players."

Spain still has talented young footballers but, like Australia's cricket team, the Miami Heat, the Yankees or Tiger Woods, there's a process of regeneration and rejuvenation to go through before domination can be attempted once again.

What do you think about Spain's performance in Brazil? Continue the conversation with Alex on Twitter, or have your say in the comments box below.

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Filed under:  Football • World Cup
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Patokev

    "Spain still has talented young footballers but, like Australia's cricket team, the Miami Heat, the Yankees or Tiger Woods, there's a process of regeneration and rejuvenation to go through before domination can be attempted once again."

    That is a lot to interpret.

    June 19, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • Charles

      The Yankees and Heat I can see. I think Australia's cricket team is already bouncing back, and the English and Indian teams have similar issues. All three have lost star players to retirement in the preceding two years. I won't comment on Tiger Woods, as he's an individual instead of a team; Your Mileage May Vary.

      June 19, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Reply
    • Lorenc

      You are right

      June 22, 2014 at 8:01 am | Reply
    • barcacentraldiatus

      What went wrong? easy...Xabi Alonson trying his "long pass direct futbol" and Xavi Hernandez sticking to his "tika Taka short futbol"...I faut Xabi Alonso for trying to walk away from the style that brought them 2 European Cups and a world cup...the author did not need to write that long an article!

      July 4, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Reply
  2. noe

    Spain has lost its hunger as simple as that.

    June 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Reply
    • bentyler17

      Nothing to do with Spain, but I've depicted England's performance against Uruguay and analysed it piece by piece if anyone is interested in reading

      But the reason why Spain have failed so miserably at this tournament is due to the fact they are far too predictable as a team nowadays, every international side knows their game, the tactics they look to apply and how best to deal with Spain as a unit. Holland tore Spain apart on the counter-attack, the five at the back allowed no movement from Spain's offensive players, Diego Costa was isolated and largely ineffective on his own up front and when Holland retained possession – particularly in the second half – the wing backs added pace and power to Holland's wide play and completely stretched Spain's defensive shape. When you leave gaps as big as Spain did when Holland counter-attack you with panache and pace you are always going to look likely conceding with Robben and Van Persie having so much space all the time.

      With Chile, Spain did not look up for it at all, quite frankly shell-shocked from their previous drubbing, and when they went one down you did not feel Spain would find enough resilience to fight back and turn the tide in their favour. Once the second went in, it was game over and Chile saw out the game without much incident from Spain. Casillas has been a weak point in the tournament for Spain, not only at fault for goals but failing to deal with shots that two or three years ago he would have plucked out of thin air, take the second goal for example. This is most likely down to his lack of match action with Diego Lopez in the side, who plays in league fixtures, you cannot put someone who has featured so little for his side in goal for the world and European champions, no matter how prestigious a name Casillas is. That's my take on the whole Spain shambles, but it's not come as a surprise to me.

      June 20, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  3. Richard

    I always remind my self that everyone at that level is simply very talented. Spain losing in this fashion has totally renewed my interest in the world cup. I mean really? Do you want to see the same guys win another one???

    June 19, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • Memo

      I agree. Spain's defeat made everyone perk up and stare. I, personally, am no fan but even Spain haters have to say that the loss was unexpected.

      June 19, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  4. Lala

    The problem is Spain doesn't have any talented young footballers. It's over.

    June 19, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Reply
    • andres rodriguez

      Spain has no talented young footballers??? You're either kidding or really know nothing of football lol I suppose Isco, Morata, De Gea and Thiago Alcantara are from... Argentina?

      June 27, 2014 at 4:05 am | Reply
  5. Richard

    Spain had a very successful run the last 6 years and specifically the last two Euros and the 2010 World Cup. Despite winning those three tournaments, they had a number of close games that could have gone either way. They were very good but they were also very lucky. It finally caught up to them.

    June 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Reply
    • alvaro barcala

      If you think you can win the three mayor championships in the world in a row just because of luck... you need a doctor...

      July 9, 2014 at 2:27 am | Reply
  6. einesmv

    I completely agree with this article. Here in Spain it was been such an intense Liga this year and we were all paying attention to the Champions... we have a very strong tradition in football and one of the bests (if not the best) football League, del Bosque left incredibly good players such as Navas and Carvajal at home, we need to renew our team.
    We won it all, and now we lost it, but this will always be a historical team. Spain will go back to the elite of football, no doubt about it.

    June 19, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Reply
    • LILY

      I AGREE WITH UR COMMENT TOTALLY ..SPAIN WILL ALWAYS BE SPAIN ALSO.. they are my team,,always will be..

      June 20, 2014 at 5:38 am | Reply
  7. Altogringo

    Why is no one mentioning the absence of Carlos Puyol as a key factor? He was their Minister of Defense, the anchor.

    June 19, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  8. Francisco

    First of all, I don't know what Coach del Bosque was thinking. GK Casillas has been a "sub" GK for some time and NOT a starter. Starter should have been Reina with De Gea as 2nd if anything. Clearly Casillas already made his first error during the UEFA Championship "Finals" with the goal scored on him. If it was not for the strong fielded players they would have lost from ATM. I dreaded this already from the start!!!
    Than there were some of the best experienced players on the bench, such as; Piquet, David Villa, Alonso? and Xavi. Why??? when the needed to get past Chile?!?!? Diego Costa??? Sorry but he should have not started before David Villa who has been around since and with the "youth" world cups and still can be very dangerous in front of the goal.
    In short; the Coach del Bosque is only to blame for this fiasco! Realistically, It looked more like Spain squad was bought to lose their games and bow out. They were not even taking any shots! If Brazil wins, in will be the most up-set WC, yet. Cause Brazil does not have a viable team this year. Had Spain advanced to the final vs. Brazil, they would have taken Brazil to the cleaners. I always said taking 20 shots the one that makes the net may be the winning goal!!!

    June 19, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  9. Eduardo

    I completely agree with the fact that Spain needs a new generation of young players. Although, I understand that it could have been a very difficult decision for Vicente del Bosque, saying some players such as: David Villa, Torres, Xavi, Casillas and Xabi Alonso, “you can't come to the FIFA World Cup because your time is over”, especially if we think in all the success they have achieved, as well as the fact that last year they arrived to the FIFA Confederations Cup final. Personally, I believe it was absolutely necessary. For instance, if we think in Brazil we do not find players such as Kaka, Robinho or Ronaldinho. Probably, Scolary is thinking to give value and experience for young talents such as Neymar.
    On the other hand, Spain has been known far and wide for its amazing football style: Tiki-taka, so, it has been the first point to consider; trying to do something different. It was necessary to find new players with this control and possession style. In this way, Barcelona’s or Atlethic de Bilbao’s new talents; Muniain, Sergi Roberto, Ander Herrera, Thiago Alcantara(Bayer Munich) etc. are the key to follow the style.
    To finish, I believe that Vicente del Bosque is a good coach but has been a horrible manager, giving priority to personal decisions before to search the great benefit of the team. I found a fantastic example when Luis Aragones was the Spanish coach and he left off Raul. He was extremely criticized but it allowed Spain to get the European cup, as well as enjoy of the most brilliant success period that Spain never have seen.

    June 19, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  10. py3cvsclaudio

    excesso de títulos pode ser, cansaço não é o termo, no Brasil, os times atravessam muitas vezes 4 mil km de Porto Alegre pra jogar em Manaus, voltam ao Rio, depois, de novo em Fortaleza...esse cansaço é maior...na real, a Espanha perdeu com aquele toque de bola, querem entrar gol adentro pra fazer bonito, levaram um "baile" da holanda...a Austrália, com um futebol rápido, quase surpreendeu a Holanda, deu show e olé, não ganharam por falta de um diferenciado, perderam muitos gols...o Brasil, com o mesmo esquema lento da Espanha, desse jeito, não irá muito longe.

    June 19, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  11. Gabe

    also:
    Pique has become nothing more than a statue. He never dives to defend his goal.

    June 19, 2014 at 11:10 pm | Reply
    • Brian Prospect

      He doesn't want to get his clothes dirty, He rather look good for the picture.

      July 2, 2014 at 3:28 am | Reply
  12. Memo

    I think that Spain was very talented, and though I didn't enjoy them winning year after year, I must say that I am quite shocked. They have good players, their loss just proves that not everyone can win every time. It's just the way the ball bounces. Good luck to all teams still playing!

    June 19, 2014 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  13. vahid

    Spain's line-up squad includes lots of talented players who are experienced enough but lack of a teamwork tactics like before in 2010 world cup, maybe due to high aged guys who feel tiredness in their legs while more importantly, they were coming back from a campeign of spanish and European titles. If the manager had used younger players instead of ones who were enough stubborn not to play tiki taka, he would have seen his team in knock-out stage. It seems that a team can not win the title without a very common teammate feeling even the spain national team accompanied with the best Barcelona-made tactics.

    June 20, 2014 at 3:11 am | Reply
  14. Sylvia

    Yes, I also think there's no younger good footballers, or they did't give chance to young footballers....

    June 20, 2014 at 3:33 am | Reply
    • Roberto

      I agree with you, Sylvia.

      Maybe Del Bosque didn't consider seriously enough the level of exhaustion of the absolute stars Spain has. Choosing younger, maybe stars-in-the-making interspersed, would have been excellent, provided coach Del Bosque could have asssembled the 23 as a team, not merely as a collection of cracks. Spain wasn't a team like in South Africa. Chile, is the best example of a well-assembles, well-worked team.

      June 21, 2014 at 1:27 am | Reply
  15. Bigbird

    Yes they have the talent and have won many titles, however their emotion got the best of them. You saw their emotion drop in their lost to the Netherlands. After the second goal their drive was gone. There was no effort on the field, a lot of walking, standing with hands on hips and watching and no effort to attack the ball. Yes soccer is a rough game and requires a lot of running and this is why they get paid the big bucks to perform their jobs. I love Spain and have been their fan for years and will continue to be no matter what.

    June 20, 2014 at 7:57 am | Reply
  16. Claudio Velasquez Rojas

    Just consider that the best strikers in Spain are mostly from Latin American countries (no need to name them) and those make the different at the front, you remove them from the Spanish squad and they have no impact. Just see what happens when you bring a great striker into a game such as Suarez. Sorry that when from Spain to IS PAIN Saludos

    June 20, 2014 at 10:42 am | Reply
    • Peter Trainor

      That is not so. Four years ago they won the world cup in great style and all their strikers were Spanish born!

      June 25, 2014 at 6:42 am | Reply
  17. Antonio Nadal

    I'm proud of this team, I thank them for these six years, for these three tournaments every two years; any national football team hasn't achieved this goal yet. They deserve the respect of all Spaniards!. Now a renovation and a new challenge are needed, that's life, this era is over but we'll be back soon!

    June 20, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  18. GregK

    How quickly we forget history. Spain had been the perennial underachievers until finally winning in Europe. The story is pretty similar to that of France just before that. Spanish dominance lasted just slightly longer but it is easy to see the similarity. Once in history the planets aligned and added the determination to win, to a wealth of other factors including a revolutionary playing style. But if innovation is not persistent and part of the culture the world will quickly figure out how to beat you at your own game. It is very likely that Spain, just like France did, will go back to its traditional role of underachievers until the planets align again for some reason.

    June 20, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  19. imad tareen

    i personally fell, Spain do his best, but they way Holland play his cards, its make big difference, its the failure of Spanish Coach, that he could not utilize his player under different situation during the game, win or lose, its a part of game, but this time Spain changes his game techniques,

    June 20, 2014 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  20. Roberto

    It's fine to debate what happened to the world champs. It's not to all but ignore a serious look at what Chile did. The Chilean squad had immense physical display, tactic discipline, a superb team play, where everybody is committed to the team, everyone helps out, and thus, the talents are potentiated. Chile has a superb, studious and ambitious coach in Jorge Sampaoli.

    Spain, on the other hand, is full of understandably tired stars, whom coach Del Bosque coudln't assemble as a team, playing with sufficient freshness and hunger. Thus, against Chile, Spain simply lost against a team which was superior during this match. That should be the first analysis, not the last one.

    Good luck to Chile, and good luck to Spain, which of course can recoverm rejuvenate itself, and win the 2016 Euro, and even the 2018 Word Cup in RUssia. By the way, Chile could too.

    June 21, 2014 at 1:22 am | Reply
  21. Nicodemus

    Spain should not expect respect when they come to world cup. Thinking that they are still the best got them wrong footed.

    June 21, 2014 at 6:00 am | Reply
    • Peter Trainor

      ACtually that is not so. Spain had a very tired team which had a much longer season. Also it was huge mistake having Casillas in there. He wasnt the same goalie as 4 yrs ago in fact with Real Madrid the last two years he didnt play much so he was lacking lots of practice. Del Bosque blew it big time. For sure Spain will return stronger.

      June 25, 2014 at 6:44 am | Reply
  22. Al

    they were just beaten by better tactics and a better team

    June 21, 2014 at 9:24 am | Reply
  23. Nafasat khan

    Its Barca, Real Madrid Rivalry on the field which always let Spain Down

    June 21, 2014 at 9:27 am | Reply
  24. Chukwudi

    In Spain,d old King abdicates his throne,a young and much more vibrant King takes over.That is symbolic and pretty much relevant with regards the early exit of the Spanish national team from this year's world cup taking place in Brazil.Life is not designed to last for ever.History is replete with Kings and Kingdoms rise and fall.Don't cry for Spain for that is the way the cookie crumbles!!

    June 22, 2014 at 9:13 am | Reply
  25. orlando suarez

    Del Bosque failed to adjust to Holland's tactics both offense and defense.. Casillas and others should have left the game. Spain lacks a magic footer like Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, Suarez. or Bolatelli.
    Alex, why the cheap shot at Ronaldo's hair? It is up to his girl friend.
    Orlando

    June 22, 2014 at 9:47 am | Reply
  26. jose

    So sick of people trying to explain Spain's defeat in something different than a superior rival
    Chileans like Alexis, (Barcelona) or Vidal (injured, Juventus) could have similar excuses but they performed brilliantly.
    Do your homework and see what happened in Chile's path to Brasil: 2-0 over England in Wembley; 2-2 against Spain, 2-2 againts Brasil; See what Germany has to say of their last pre world cup match

    June 23, 2014 at 3:20 am | Reply
  27. chris the charmd1

    lets hope Spain doesnt drift back to the "under achieving years" ,,they had a great team then .remember ...RAUL , LUIS ENRIQUE ?

    June 23, 2014 at 10:28 am | Reply
  28. IJzeren Rinus

    Dear Alex,
    "I had to reread this alinea a couple of times: "Plenty of other top nations, particularly European ones, can point to squads littered with players wearied by long campaigns with their clubs. However, none of Germany, England, France, Holland, Italy and Belgium has won a major international title in the last six years. Whereas Spain has won them all."
    What about Bayern Munich (German team) with their victory in the Champions League Finals of 2013 against Dortmund, with the deciding goal of Arjen Robben... do you know him ? Both Barcelona and Real Madrid were destroyed with big numbers in the semi-finals by these German teams.

    June 23, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  29. Saral

    Spain have to introduce new style of playing football, tiki-taka style is no more effective now.

    June 25, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  30. world cup junkie

    I am a Spanish die hard fan, But I think Mexico will win it all, who would of thought they would have won brazil for the gold in 2012 oylmpics. they have also won numerous copa america tournments.Plus i love ther coach, he is very passionate for the game.

    June 27, 2014 at 2:48 am | Reply
  31. Carlos Ricardo

    There are cycles in sport business that finish in the top and cycles that finish in the bottom. Without innovations or new and young players Spain couldn't expect better results. In spite of matureness and experienced players , Holland team showed reality of Soccer speedy and younger players will always dominate competitions. four years in between SouthAfrica and Brazil world cups were enouh time to emerge for new teams, new strategies and new stars...

    June 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Reply
  32. Brian Prospect

    Spain was mentally drained for this year and they underperformed. They will likely bounce back and win 2016s European Championship because they have the talent to do so. All they need is motivation, and after experiencing failure they will be hungry again.

    July 2, 2014 at 3:25 am | Reply
  33. Ba-Geh Liao

    It's tactical error in the battlefield that led Spain down the drain. And the generals/coaches should bear the responsibility. When a country, let's say, is weak and poor, we ask for new leader but not new citizens. It'd be naive to say that new and younger players will make a difference. But the desire for new and younger players implies that we want to see change. But the change should happen at the very top first. Spain has the world's top players, we need new leaders who are brave and courageous enough to coach these top players. The ignorance of the coaching management team broke the hearts of those who love Spain.

    July 2, 2014 at 7:24 am | Reply
  34. sszorin

    It is called – "being over the hill". That's why.

    July 2, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Reply
  35. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    La Furiya Roja is yet to find a solid replacement for the recently retired Carles Puyol. The energetic defender and motivator was sorely missed by Spain. The others are still good and tiki-taka could still re-emerge in the Euro 2016 and the World Cup thereafter. All the best to Spain in the squad rebuilding exercise.

    July 3, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  36. Aruba boy

    The most difficult task for a coach/manager is to eliminate players, who brought you so many successes and were always lloyal to you. To tell them that their time to leave has come, while they are still competing at the highest level not many coaches are able to do.

    July 4, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  37. Rich Tolle

    none of Germany, England, France, Holland, Italy and Belgium has won a major international title in the last six years. Whereas Spain has won them all. – This profoundly says it all.

    July 9, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  38. aman

    its all because of the coach he didnt allow villa to play in 1st and 2nd match.He didnt positioned the players properly.at the last match he understood the worth of spain

    July 10, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Reply
    • aman

      and puyol was retired

      July 10, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  39. Lukevin

    Great players, great team- they were very unlucky, they should have stayed in the #WorldCup . I made a video for them with a song to the melody of Tragedy by Bee Gees, check it out on youtube: Lukevin99 Spain vs Holland and Chile Wolrd Cup 2014

    July 11, 2014 at 12:44 am | Reply

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