Matt Traub

Why Spain's not out of it yet, and more Group B analysis

Created on Jun. 13, 2014 7:55 PM EST

1. Really, Spain? Not enough going forward in the second half. Its lone goal was debatable on a soft penalty (not the first time or for the last in this World Cup). And while Iker Casillas will come under justifiably heavy criticism for flapping at a cross in the second half, the question also must fall onto the center back duo of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, who twice lost runners on flighted balls into the middle by Daley Blind, and on the cross that led to the third goal let their marks go straight at Casillas. Five goals allowed and if Casillas had not made a couple of late saves, it would have been worse. The entire back four, but particularly the middle two, must improve for there to be any chance of getting into the knockout stages
2. Van Gaal masterclass. It falls into the narrative of Louis Van Gaal’s ego that he came out and said exactly what the formation would be against Spain, and still pulled off the tactical victory. The three in the back was sometimes shaky, especially in the first half, but the midfield was able to assume control in the second half and cut down on Spain’s ability to find the through ball. Putting three center backs in there also played into the idea of clogging the middle and forcing Spain out wide, which is where it is weakest offensively. Call is the “Bob Bradley” theory of game planning … it was his work with the U.S. team in the 2009 Confederations Cup on funneling the Spanish to the flanks and then using superior height to clear out crosses that was copied by the Swiss in the Spain’s 2010 World Cup loss, and to a Dutch degree in today’s game.
3. Blind’s vision. Watching the Dutch Eredivisie for the first time this year in U.S. television, Ajax and PSV were two of the favorite sides to watch. And out of Ajax, myf favorite player was Daley Blind, and he showed why with two terrific un-Dutch like assists out of midfield, going over the top of the Spanish central defense. Blind played at left back and left midfield for Ajax this season and never looked hurried on the ball no matter his position on the field. Blind, if bigger clubs in Europe weren’t looking at him before, will have had his price tag raised significantly.
4. Chile’s going to regret Cahill. Chile, for 15 minutes, showed why they’re a fashionable underdog pick. Then, for some unknown reason, it turned off and allowed Australia to get confidence, then a goal from Tim Cahill, who later in the second half had what would have been a tying goal waved off for offside, with Australia forcing Chile goalie Claudio Bravo into several saves. Yes, Chile got a third in stoppage time, but it realistically should have had more if it hadn’t turned off the throttle. On the heels of the Netherlands-Spain matchup, it must make Spain believe it is still in the running for advancement if Chile’s going to be unable to play 90 minutes without a lapse in concentration.
5. Change your picks yet? Even after today, here’s a plausible way for the rest of the group to go; Spain beats Chile, Netherlands beats Australia, Spain beats Australia and Chile beats Netherlands. And if that happens, you’ve got three teams with six points apiece, and what’s the first tiebreaker? Goal differential. That’s why Tim Cahill’s header matters. That’s why Robben’s second goal matters, and even why the two late saves Casillas made matters. That’s why Chile’s late goal matters. This group had a seismic result today, but is not over.

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