World Cup - International

Spain Falls to Switzerland

It wouldn’t be a good World Cup without an upset or two. In the case of Spain, now is a better time to be smacked on the back of the cabeza than in the knockout phase, or even later in group competition. From the look of their play today, the Kings of Europe needed it.

Narrow attack, just short-of-adequate finishes, and a little less focus than the day called for left La Furia Roja muy furioso indeed. One can reasonably argue that Spain’s recent uber-successfulness and ridiculously talented squad caused them not to take their opponents as seriously as they should have.

Indeed for much of the match, they relied on their unmatched passing and holding to try and walk the ball into goal with little urgency. That said, take nothing away from the workmanlike defense and goalkeeping displayed by the successfully cagey Swiss. They entered the game planning to hunker down and weather the tornado, but played the role of the defiant lesser team to better-than-expected effect.

The death blow by Switzerland will rank high on the list of ugliest goals of this tournament. In the 52nd minute, a long Swiss goal kick was settled and passed to Eren Derdiyok, who charged without opposition towards the goal. A panicky Iker Casillas (there’s a phrase I thought I’d never use), attacked feet-first in a display of thoughtlessness that serves only to make Tim Howard’s heroic sacrificing of three ribs and a nipple on Saturday that much more admirable. The referee let the confusing play continue as Gerard Pique, also befuddled by events, tried to avoid the flailing body of Derdiyok and get control of the ball at the same time. Pique earned only a nasty gash on the face for his efforts as the man of the hour, Swiss midfielder Gelson Fernandes, bounded in and shot history into the net.

The goal was, to say the least, against the run of play. For the entire first half, and most of the second, Spain thoroughly dominated the game. Possession was theirs.  Shots were theirs. “Threatening” is inadequate to describe the Spanish attack overall, especially once they felt the pressure. The amount of peppering done by the relaxed Spaniards on Diego Benaglio’s goal was just as prolific as it was ineffective. The cameras spent very little time on the Spanish side of the midfield line today, as the likes of Sergio Ramos kept the ball on a constant forward trajectory.

It was perhaps that ease in controlling the game that left the Spanish players looking a little too slack, a little too sure of victory. Even the goal didn’t seem like the end of the world, that is until the dreadful upward ticking of the clock reached ever closer to 90 without a response.

The first half saw beer-droppingly close attempts by Silva, Pique, and the tireless Iniesta, each one ending in a weak finish or a strong save. The first sign of the eventual outcome was a 23rd minute chance created by Iniesta, whose phenomenal set up of Pique was denied by a save that would prove to set the tone for the match. Shortly thereafter, Iniesta was successful in dramatizing a very light shoulder tug for a free kick that Villa sent rocketing into the wall.

More great opportunities by Villa and company characterized the second half but all were equally denied. Following the Swiss goal, Spain finally subbed in the long-awaited and freshly groomed Fernando Torres. Torres had immediate but ultimately ineffective impact, breaking through the back line and threatening Benaglio on multiple heart-stopping occasions. Xabi Alonso managed to blast a 25-yarder onto a rattled crossbar. Shot after shot after shot came Switzerland’s way, but even the ESPN announcers were left with no way to characterize Spain’s non-existent equalizer other than “just not meant to be.”

Switzerland would provide one more holy-shit moment in the last 10 minutes, as Derdiyok sped unchallenged towards an unprepared Casillas (yet another phrase I never thought I’d use), but this time the gods were merciful as Derdiyok’s shot bounced off the post.

5 extra minutes offered a glimmer of hope for the joint favorites in this tournament, but the intensity Spain had finally found by then was too late to the party. Even a tense free kick and a 95th minute corner failed to salvage the day.

For only the second time in the last several years of international competition, Spain walked away empty-handed, and again at the hands of an inferior team (no offense, USA). Their uniforms may evoke McDonald’s, but Spanish fans everywhere were surely not lovin’ it.

Does this mean that the hype is greater than the Fury? I think not. The blind squirrel that is Switzerland found a massive nut, but what happened today was a matter of pride—too much of it. The Spanish wouldn’t condescend to really compete with the Swiss until it was too late. They didn’t utilize the flanks as much as they would against a team they respected, they took their eyes off the game defensively (who are you and what have you done with Iker Casillas?), and the attitude when facing their opponent’s goal was not the kind necessary to power through a real challenge, which the Swiss unexpectedly proved to be. Note to Spain—these little teams are gonna play defense. Not just in the group stage, but all the time. You have the reputation to scare 10 guys into staying behind the ball as often as possible.

I’m sure that Los Reyes de Europa will reserve a spot in their mentality for this reminder that the Cup isn’t going to show up at their doorstep, and that from here on, they will do what we all know they can—break through.

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