Remember The Good Times For Spain...

Defeat to Chile and subsequent World Cup exit signalled the end of an era for Spain but Ian Watson insists they should be remembered for defining a generation before failing in Brazil...

Last Updated: 19/06/14 at 12:02

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Tiki-taka may not be dead, but the great Spain side who conquered the world with it are being prepared for burial. No one expected the end to come quite so soon but when it did, it was a painful demise.

Some predicted that Spain might struggle to retain their crown in the company of Brazil and Argentina, but nobody foresaw that next Monday's dead rubber against Australia would be the wake of this great team.

Prior to the tournament, Vicente Del Bosque claimed Spain remained in their prime - a point with which I agreed - and the coach stayed loyal to a group of serial winners who arrived in South America on the back of three tournament victories and 53 unbeaten qualifying matches. Del Bosque, it would seem, knew something was not right but, underestimating the scale of their problems, he opted to tweak rather than transform.

The bloody nose received at the Confederations Cup at the hand of Brazil was a warning. The lack of a Plan B was starting to hurt Spain on the increasingly frequent occasions opponents had sussed a way to neutralise Plan A. Diego Costa was seen as the remedy, and luring him from within the Brazil squad seemed a smart move. By strengthening their ranks and increasing variety, they also weakened a major rival.

The plan failed. Costa started both Spain defeats and looked a player ill at ease with his role, which maybe should not come as a huge surprise. There are few parallels between Spain, who traditionally probe patiently, and Costa's Atletico, who employed a more direct style on their way to the La Liga title.

It would be unfair to lay the blame for Spain's demise at Costa's feet, in Iker Casillas's hands or on any individual - perhaps with the exception of Del Bosque.

The coach failed to freshen up his side sufficiently, and though his is hardly a squad disfigured by age (their average age is only marginally higher than Argentina and lower than Brazil), time has taken its toll, most obviously on the team's two figureheads.

Xavi arrived at the finals on the back of his worst season at Barcelona, with the great man's legs no longer capable of carrying him around a pitch in the way they used to. The playmaker has even appointed his own successor - the "extraordinary" Koke - but, not unreasonably, the 34-year-old, driven by the prospect of making more history, wanted one last hurrah in a Spain jersey.

Unlike Xavi, Casillas was spared the chop against Chile, with Del Bosque believing his captain was mentally strong enough to shoulder the criticism which came his way after gifting Holland two of their five goals last week. Another horrible mistake - initially, the decison to punch Alexis Sanchez's free-kick, then the woeful execution - just five days later will have the 33-year-old asking his team-mates for forgiveness once more.

Casillas's form going into the tournament was difficult to judge given Carlo Ancelotti preferred to trust Diego Lopez with the Real Madrid gloves, just as Jose Mourinho did. Former Real coach Mourinho had an agenda in attempting to strip the keeper of some of the power he held in the dressing room, but Ancelotti had no such ulterior motive. Maybe that, and Casillas's Champions League final mistake, should have made alarm bells ring in Del Bosque's mind over Spain's most-capped player, especially given the quality in reserve.

Not that the once-great keeper should be singled out. Xabi Alonso struggled to identify a red shirt for much of the first half on Wednesday, while Sergio Ramos fared no better alongside Javi Martinez than he did with the axed Gerard Pique last week. Sergio Busquets' only contribution of note was to miss a second-half sitter while David Silva was again anonymous.

This squad contained only four variations from the party which travelled to Euro 2012, while the XI to face Chile contained only two changes to the side which beat Italy in the final two years ago. Del Bosque's loyalty is admirable, and understandable given the status of many of his players. But with the Under-21s having won the last two European Championships, perhaps this summer was the time to bring through some of that talent.

Koke played the second half against Chile, while the likes of Isco, Iker Munian, Alvaro Morata and David De Gea mean Del Bosque can bring some badly-needed new impetus, pace and hunger into his squad - provided he is still around to select it.

While the obituaries are being published for this team, of course, their current failure is not what they should be remembered for. This group of players did more than simply win; they defined an era, similarly to Pele's Brazil, Cruyff's Holland and Puskas' Hungary. Individually and collectively, though, their time is now up.

By Ian Watson - follow him on Twitter.

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