USMNT 0, Spain 4, Or, Rise of The Forgotten
Well, well, well… Del Bosque playing unusual players? Check. Spain playing with courage, determination and style during a friendly? Check. Torres scoring? Check.
I feel like sitting on my balcony and waiting for a flock of flying walruses to pass by.
I wasn’t feeling particulaly optimistic about this match, given the lackluster performances La Roja had depressed us with during the last few friendlies and Del Bosque’s insistence in doing the exact same thing every match, playing the exact same players in the exact same positions and getting the exact same results, but I was pleasantly surprised.
For a start, Xavi’s absence meant that there was a big gap amongst the usual stars of Our Wise Walrus’ Travelling Circus. And instead of plugging someone new in his place and hoping the tired machine kept puttering on, Del Bosque took the chance to try a new midfield pair: even shorter than Xavi and Iniesta, even younger, and maybe just as talented, Silva and Cazorla were handed the reins of La Roja, with the trusty Alonso-Busquets double pivot to watch their backs.
That’s six, count’em, SIX players who usually don’t make the starting XI: Reina, Albiol, Arbeloa, Cazorla, Silva and Negredo.
And it worked.
And it worked mostly because of those new players, who even with the weight of a long season on their shoulders, were so willing to make an impression that they played as if this were a competitive match and the country’s reputation were on the line.
It was wonderful to see.
Particular applause must go to Cazorla -creative, energetic, determined-, Silva -elegant, intense, a sight for sore eyes when running at goal- and Xabi -calm, precise, wearing the captain’s armband as if he had been born with it. They were the cogs that kept the tiki-taka flowing when it was necessary, and yet they also dabbled in long balls and direct runs that had a distinct English influence -Xabi’s Liverpool years and Silva’s ManCity stay coming in handy, as shown on Xabi’s swoon-worthy assist to Negredo for the second goal.
Negredo did quite well, too, in his own way. Though a bit out of synch with the rest of the team (well, anyone would be with so little practice with them), he made himself available always, worked the USA back-four well, and made a good argument for his continued presence in La Roja. Villa, too, had a good game, although he wasn’t determinant, Silva overlapping him often.
Our back four, though, wasn’t such good news. Ramos, back as RB, was alright, always quick to go on the attack and just a bit less quick to track back and defend; Piqué, although lacking the concentration he always lacks when Puyol isn’t there to shout at him, did his duty. Albiol, however, was barely average, if that -leaving open the question of what is going to happen when Puyol’s knee forces him to retire from international duty-, and Arbeloa… well, I don’t trust myself to talk about him; at this point in time, I can’t tell if my dislike of him is colouring my view.
For the second half, Del Bosque brought in Torres for Negredo -who’d been stepped on-, Iniesta for Villa and Bruno for Busquets. This changed a bit the design, because Iniesta tends to drift to the midfield even when playing on the wing, and Torres was left alone in front of Howards. Then Capdevila came in for Ramos and Borja Valero made his debut for Silva, and though things had settled down a bit, with the scoreline 0-3, Torres finally got his goal -a pretty nice one, it must be said- to end something like 9 months of desperation with La Roja.
And Iker Casillas came in for Reina 10 minutes before the end to wave at his North American fans.
All in all, it was a pretty good day for everyone… except for the USMNT, I suppose. (you can read a US-centric match review here). And for Del Bosque, who is going to have awful trouble trying to justify going back to his old ways after ‘the forgotten’ put on such a splendid performance.
Rumour is, The Marquis intends to play every single one of the players he has dragged across the ocean, so expect more interesting changes on Tuesday against Venezuela!
What an odd feeling, looking forwards to a Spain friendly… I’d missed it!
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