PETE JENSON: Fans know Spain got the wake-up call they needed ahead of the World Cup Round of 16…Japan exposed their ADDICTION to taking risks in defence, which the Relentless Morocco will punish
Spain’s shock defeat to Japan triggered a switch on Thursday night, snuffing out any optimism that Luis Enrique’s side can go all the way in Qatar.
They were flying after beating Costa Rica and holding Germany, but now the old worries about playing from the back, being exposed at counter pace and getting around teams without ever penetrating their massive defenses are come back to haunt Spain.
They are addicted to risk at the back and can be one-dimensional in attack and while it didn’t cost them against Costa Rica, some believe it could hurt them now that things are getting serious in the knockout stages.
Luis Enrique has food for thought after watching his Spanish side lose to Japan in Group E
The team struggled to break Japan down in the second half as they slid to a surprise defeat
Alvaro Morata opened the scoring but the side looked one-dimensional after the break
Don’t count Luis Enrique among the sceptics. On Instagram on Friday morning, he posted: ‘Close or dead shave? Well, it was just a close shave. We are in the last 16!!!! Go on!!!’
This last game of the round of 16 will be against Morocco, followed by a potential quarter-final against Portugal and before the game against Japan, most Spanish fans saw this as a much easier route than having to face Croatia then Brazil. But they didn’t want it to happen that way.
The collapse after going behind in Japan and the inability to break down the opposition is ringing the alarm bells to the point that a physical Moroccan side no longer seems like such an easy route to the last eight. Morocco have shown so far in this World Cup that they have the ability to hit teams on the break and the fear is now that Spain’s high defensive line could be punished just like the commitment to play .
‘Soft hands’ made Marca headlines over the Spanish keeper’s failure to prevent the opening goal. But many are more concerned about Unai Simon’s high-risk play than his shot-stopping.
Spain keeper Unai Simon was at fault for the opening goal, and his insistence on playing from the back has some fans worried.
The Spanish keeper made a mistake during the Euros last year when a back pass from Pedri rolled over his foot against Croatia, but as he told MailSport in a pre-tournament interview, he is not about to change its ways.
“When it’s a technical error and not a conceptual error, you think of nothing more than: I messed up, let’s move on to the next pass,” he said. “You can’t stop playing the right pass just because you played a poor quality ball – we all make mistakes.
“When I see my matches replayed afterwards, I think: Holy shit, what madness I did there. Or how difficult that pass I played was. But in the end, that’s how the manager wants to play and that’s how we do it.
So they’re not going to change and Japan’s high-intensity press is the way forward for future rivals.
Former Spain coach Jose Antonio Camacho slammed the dramatic domestic mood swing, telling Spanish radio: “As always, after a win we’re going to win the World Cup and after a loss we’re going to win the World Cup. we are the worst team in the world.” The important thing was to get the band out and we did.
Spain count on Cesar Azpilicueta to help young players with his experience
He also refused to take the bait on whether players like Sergio Ramos should have been called up to add invaluable experience in situations like the one Spain faced in the second half. “Sergio Busquets and Cesar Azpilicueta have experience,” he replied.
But he conceded that the mind will be affected. “Of course, morale takes a hit, but we have an extra day to recover.”
This is the other advantage of having finished second. If Spain had won their group, not only would they have had to face Croatia, but they would have had to play on Monday instead of Tuesday. The extra day will be a blessing, especially for a midfield trio that seemed to be running on empty against Japan in the second half.
Luis Enrique was expected to change his midfield with Gavi, who had missed several sessions with a knock, and 34-year-old Sergio Busquets were both candidates for rest. The manager surprised everyone by picking the Barcelona midfielder for the third game in a row. .
Morocco have won Group F in impressive fashion and could cause problems for Spain in the round of 16
A lack of freshness from the bench is now a concern much like the absence of a plan B in attack. When Barcelona couldn’t get past Japan’s intense low block in the final quarter of an hour, there was no great centre-forward to turn to.
Luis Enrique left Borja Iglesias at home in Spain and made up his squad with seven smaller, mobile forwards. Ansu Fati – who still looks far from fit for the full match – came on, but despite lots of movement there was no way to get the goal in a crowded area in Japan.
“A slap in the face in no time,” was how another pundit summed up the 2-1 loss. As the nerves recover from the shock of being third in the group for three minutes, it will be the dominant emotion that takes over. It was a warning – play this way again and Spain will say adios to Qatar.