A View from Oranje’s Opposition: Spain
The Netherlands’ World Cup campaign begins where it ended four years ago: Against Spain. The Iberians will be looking to become the first team to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1970.
Spain was sovereign in the qualification leading up to the World Cup, winning six of their eight matches and drawing the other two. In a group with Chile, Australia and The Netherlands, the draw for the World Cup in Brazil could’ve been kinder, but Spain are the undisputed favourites to make it out of the group as number one.
The strength of the Spanish is quite obvious. But to learn even more about ‘La Furia Roja‘, we have asked Samuel Marsden, journalist for Sport among others, to answer a few questions on the first opponent of Oranje on this World Cup.
In what ways is the Spain team today different from the one which beat Netherlands in the final in 2010?
Vicente Del Bosque is a big fan of familiarity and, where possible, likes to keep the nucleus of his team the same. The continued inclusion of the likes of Fernando Torres and David Villa, in favour of Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente, best illustrates that point. For this reason, the Spain team of today does not vary greatly from the one which beat Netherlands in the 2010 final. Of the 14 players that featured in that win, only three are not in Brazil: Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila and Jesus Navas. Perhaps the major variations from that final will be Jordi Alba and Diego Costa. Alba is a completely different style of full-back to Capdevila and causes problems with his pace down the left which – with Iniesta possibly playing as an inverted left-sided winger/midfielder – is vital to Spain’s armoury. As for Costa, it will be interesting to see how Del Bosque utilises him. He’ll certainly add plenty of commitment and bite to la Roja’s attack.
Will they make any sort of adjustments to combat this counter-attacking Oranje team?
Stubborn is possibly the wrong word, but Spain are certainly set in the way when it comes to their playing style. Quite rightly too, when you consider they have won back-to-back European Championships and a World Cup. You have to imagine they will look to combat this counter-attacking Oranje team the same way they look to neuter the majority of their opponents: with possession. Perhaps they will be a bit more cautious defensively and with how many bodies they throw forward, particularly as it is the opening group game, but you mostly know what to expect from Spain.
Arjen Robben came close to making the difference in the final four years ago, will Vicente del Bosque have any special plans to deal with him?
Arjen Robben is an interesting one because Jordi Alba does look to provide width for Spain on the left, so space could open up for the Bayern Munich man – as the Barcelona players will know only too well. Del Bosque will obviously be aware of the threat Robben carries too, so presumably Alba, or Azplicueta if Robben switches to the left, will be well briefed on how to deal with him and perhaps operate with slightly more discipline than normal.
What are the weaknesses the Dutch can exploit?
I actually think Spain are a well-rounded side with few weaknesses. Some point to the defence, but Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, on their day, are absolutely brilliant. As Del Bosque likes to stick with the same faces though, it’s possible the Dutch can exploit the older legs of Xabi Alonso and Xavi in midfield. If you look at the pressure Brazil piled on Spain in the Confederations Cup last summer, you can see that Spain’s tired legs just couldn’t deal with it. That match (Spain have never looked so weak in recent years) has to be the example for Holland to follow – although that’s easier said than done.
With Van Gaal setting up his team in a 5-3-2, do you think the lack of an identified dribbler is a worry for the Spanish?
I don’t think that Spain will suffer from the off due to the lack of an identified dribbler – it’s never been their way to play with players like that in their starting XI. However it could be a problem if the game remains tight in the second period, and it’s been rightly pointed out that the Spanish could miss the impact of Jesus Navas, who is injured, from the bench in Brazil.
Who will be the instrumental figure for the Spain this tournament?
Andres Iniesta, as the Dutch know only too well, is Spain’s most instrumental player. Don’t get me wrong, he’s good for Barcelona too, but you feel for Spain he carries slightly more weight than he does for the Catalans. At Barca there is Lionel Messi who is looked to when things aren’t going so well, whereas la Roja look to Iniesta and he tends to deliver. Diego Costa is also an interesting one and, if he settles into the side, he will be key to tiring defences and wearing them down, opening up spaces for the more technical player – obviously if he scores a few goals, that wouldn’t be a problem either. The only concern over Costa is his fitness after he ended the season injured.