All teams go to World Cup’s with hope in their hearts, many return disappointed but some campaigns start with such belief and unravel so shockingly they become truly painful here are the 5 worst ever World Cup campaigns as conducted by 5 nations that set out expecting glory and quickly returned home with tails firmly between their legs…
Unlike their English counterparts Spain’s Golden Generation really did shine. After decades of under achievement their brilliant young side of pass masters Xavi, Anders Iniesta & Xabi Alonso combined with dynamic forwards Fernando Torres & David Villa and a backline marshalled by Iker Casillas & Carlos Puyol put it all together at Euro 2008 and stormed to their nations first title in 44 years. Two years later under the stewardship of former Real Madrid coach Vincente Del Bosque Iniesta’s extra time winner saw Spain lift their first World Cup and they topped it all by winning the three-peat at Euro 2012.
But within a year the cracks were starting to appear, firstly Real & Barca were hammered by Bayern Munich & Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League semi-finals suggesting tikitaka football had been usurped by high pressing tactics. The same summer Spain headed to Brazil for the Confederations Cup with a full strength squad and were soundly beaten 3-0 by the hosts.
But Spain looked to be getting back on track as the Madrid clubs made it to the 2014 Champions League Final and Del Bosque was left with a choice: stick with the veterans or bring in new blood and bar the retired Puyol he stuck to a man with the veterans.
Del Bosque really should have paid more attention to the career of Muhammed Ali who stayed around too long and ended up with his brains on the canvas. Del Bosque for his part had again picked Torres whose confidence had been shot by 4 poor seasons at Chelsea whilst in goal the once majestic Casillas couldn’t catch a cold. The only concession Del Bosque was prepared to make to youth was bringing in snarling centre forward Diego Costa, many questioned if the hulking moody forward would fit with Spain’s short passing game but with Torres firing blanks Del Bosque gave Costa his shot.
The draw had pitted Spain against the side they’d beaten in the final 4 years earlier: Holland. But the game started much as the final ended with Spain dominating the ball, the Dutch were petulant and Costa won a penalty to give the Champions the early lead. But on he stroke of halt-time a brilliant long ball from Daley Blind played in Robin Van Persie for a spectacular headed equaliser. The Spanish were stunned and with Spanish centre back pairing Ramos & Pique looking as compatible as a Blind-Date couple Arjen Robben dribbled his way through to give Holland the lead before Casillas dropped a clanger for 3 and with the Spanish chasing the game Robben ran riot and Holland won 5-1.
Football was stunned, the myth of Spanish invincibility shattered and next up were high-octane Chile. In came a series of panicky changes from Del Bosque with Xavi amongst those dropped in an attempt to breath new life into the team. Spain started brightly and Xabi Alonso almost handed them an early lead. But a swift Chilean counter-attack cut through Spain and yet again Ramos & Casillas reacted too slow and Eduardo Vargas gave Chile the lead. Then just before half-time Alexis Sanchez smashed a free kick into the Spanish box and Charles Aranguiz reacted quickest for 2-0. In the second half Spain tried to get back into it but looked exhausted whilst Del Bosque resembled an embalmed corpse on the bench, Chile looked the more likely to score again and unbelievably Spain became the first side to be eliminated from the 2014 World Cup.
In their final group game Spain’s golden generation did give us a fond farewell by battering Australia as Xavi & David Villa said adios in style but it was the end of an era. Spain’s achievements will never be undone but it’s a shame they signed off with a reminder of their predecessors failings.
Next time: Argentina talk a good game in Japan