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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sports

Jaded Spain could fade

The New Paper | Saturday, May 31, 2014

Chelsea's Spanish striker Fernando Torres attends a training session at the team's training ground in Cobham, south of London, on April 29, 2014, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg football match against Atletico Madrid.

SINGAPORE - David de Gea has insisted that Spain can retain their World Cup this summer in Brazil, and quite right too.

It would be extraordinary if the Manchester United stopper had said anything else.

But the truth is that this is likely to be a very challenging tournament for the Spanish.

After six years of uninterrupted success that has brought two European Championships and a World Cup, is the sun finally setting on the era of tiki-taka?

The last two years have not been kind to the clever passing football made famous by both the national team and by Barcelona.

Tito Vilanova's Catalan side won La Liga in 2013, but were outclassed in Europe by Bayern Munich.

His replacement Roberto Martino lasted just a single season and won nothing at all.

Towering passing statistics seem almost unfashionable now in Europe, where teams have adapted by drilling banks of defensive players in preparation for the onslaught and ordering them to launch terrifying counter-attacks.

Spain are hardly in a position to evolve with them, as it's difficult to imagine a style of play for which they would be worse suited.

Andreas Iniesta is now 30, Xabi Alonso is 32, Xavi Hernandez is 34 and that midfield has always preferred possession to pace.

Elsewhere, there are niggling issues. They will miss the experience and leadership of Carlos Puyol at the back.

Sergio Ramos remains ill disciplined and reckless, and Iker Casillas hasn't been first choice for Real Madrid for 18 months, in the league at least.

But their main problem is the front line. Fernando Torres is a shadow of the player he once was and can count himself highly fortunate to even make the 30-man preliminary squad. David Villa, 33 this year, is also a reduced force.

The nationalisation of Diego Costa was supposed to be the solution, but the Atletico Madrid man is struggling with a hamstring injury and may not be fit in time. Without his tireless tenacity, Spain may struggle to break defences down.

There are other options, notably the height of Juventus man Fernando Llorente, but it's a little late in the day for a new way of thinking.

None of this would matter too much if Spain were in a normal group.

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