CBC Sports - FIFA Confederations Cup

FIFA Confederations CupSpain can't afford to get complacent

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2013 | 09:52 PM

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Fernando Torres of Spain (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring his squad's second during the FIFA Confederations Cup against Nigeria Sunday in Fortaleza, Brazil. (Clive Mason/Getty Images) Fernando Torres of Spain (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring his squad's second during the FIFA Confederations Cup against Nigeria Sunday in Fortaleza, Brazil. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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In tournament soccer one thing counts - results. How they are achieved is always secondary to the outcome, and if Spain hopes to repeat its Euro success, it can't afford to get complacent. 
Vicente del Bosque does not strike me as the diplomatic type. 

The Spanish head coach occasionally twitches his mature moustache but rarely cracks a smile on the sidelines. His poker face sometimes makes me wonder if he is not a little bored by the whole thing.

Maybe that's what winning does to a person. Perhaps del Bosque is so conditioned to observing his world champions chalking up another victory - 3-0 over Nigeria at the FIFA Confederations Cup on Sunday -- it has all become rather routine. No tension, no stress - just another 'W' to add to the ever expanding collection.

I am going to assume del Bosque has another side to his bland, external personality. If so, his players were left in no doubt as to what he really felt about Spain's latest success. When the cameras are on the other side of the dressing room door, the Spanish tactician can really go to work.

In tournament soccer one thing counts - results. How they are achieved is always secondary to the outcome. Spain has won three straight games on its Brazilian exploratory expedition, scoring 15 goals and allowing just one while adjusting to local conditions a year before it returns to defend its world title.

When Jordi Alba danced through the Nigerian defence to put Spain ahead within three minutes in Fortaleza, the tone had apparently been set. The Spanish defender would score again at the death with Fernando Torres' bullet header sandwiched in between. Another regulation victory for Spain but the 3-0 score does not tell the whole story.  

Del Bosque and his coaching staff saw something they rarely see. Spain got careless and the Nigerians noticed. Despite the early goal, the floodgates failed to open. The African champions not only survived, but sensed their opportunity. Growing in confidence, Nigeria used its speed and strength to unsettle the best possession team on the planet. 

If only Nigeria had a closer. All Nigeria needed was something you cannot teach - composure. Its lightning quick counter-attacks had Spanish defenders run ragged, but the end product is all about poise and precision under pressure. 


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Time and again the Africans were found wanting before Spain ultimately put them out of their misery and the tournament.

Del Bosque is paid to make decisions, not to massage egos. He suffers the same problem as any other coach. Of the 23 men on his roster he can only keep 11 happy at any one time. They are the ones on the field of play and their selection comes with a degree of expectation and responsibility.

First choice

Roberto Soldado might be Spain's first choice striker at next year's World Cup. Not on this evidence. The Valencia marksman had what we might kindly refer to as a bad day at the office. Twice in the first half alone, Soldado found himself with only the goalkeeper to beat but couldn't convert either chance. It was no surprise when del Bosque replaced him with Fernando Torres on the hour.

Soldado's day was about to get worse. Torres, champing at the bit following his four -goal salvo against Tahiti, scored with virtually his first touch. Del Bosque has never really trusted the Chelsea striker as a starter following his travails at the last World Cup, but surely Torres has now played his way into the semifinal starting lineup against Italy Thursday (CBCSports.ca, 2:45 p.m. ET). 

Suffice to say Spain cannot afford such profligacy against Italy. Del Bosque has arguably the finest national team ever assembled at his disposal but he cannot legislate for complacency.

There is no question of making major changes for Thursday's Euro 2012 rerun - but he will have reminded his players, in no uncertain terms, that there are standards to be upheld at all times. 

Only by setting the bar high can 'La Roja' expect to remain at the summit of the global game.

Its precise pass-and-move philosophy, perfected over many years, has brought Spain incredible success in recent times. If the passes start going astray however - as they did against Nigeria - the world champions' vulnerability is quickly exposed.

History is a great teacher and lessons must be learned. Del Bosque and his players may have their eyes on the main prize next year - but none will have forgotten how they were picked off by the plucky Americans in the Confederations Cup semifinal four years ago.

Somewhere in a luxury hotel room Mario Balotelli was watching, smiling and licking his lips. Del Bosque - not so much.

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