A different complexion for La Roja—from shirts to players.

Spain met Venezuela in an international friendly in Malaga, and as with their earlier meeting in Venezuela during La Roja’s tour of the America’s back in June 2011, the World Champions simply outclassed their opponents, this time giving them a 5-0 drubbing.

This match is considered a particularly important one, as it is the last appearance before the Euro 2012. Pundits have stated that the line-up for this particular match is indicative of the line-up for the upcoming tournament. That said, the key changes were that David Villa and Fernando Torres were not called up (and based from the 2010 World Cup line-up, Pedro Rodriguez, Raul Albiol, and Joan Capdevila were also not called up)—for varying reasons.

Villa’s still out with an injury, while Torres has faced an extended slump in form—so extended that it is pathetic already. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Fernando Torres, but I hate having to face the reality that we might have already seen the best from Nando.

In their place, Iker Muniain and Roberto Soldado have been called up. Muniain is a standout for La Rojita, while Soldado’s name has been floated for quite some time already. Soldado proved as to why there have been loud calls for him to get called up, scoring a hat-trick against the Venezuelans.

That said, I do think Soldado has solidified his spot in Spain’s line-up for Euro 2012. If anything, this now provides a different complexion to La Roja, apart from the unsightly light blue shirts (which I probably will buy anyway).

Advertisements

See you when it matters, kids.

When Fabio Capello announced his squad that would face Spain in this international friendly, everyone was quick to assume that it was already a ready excuse should they be humiliated by the World Champions. After all, several big names were missing—how could this squad stand a chance against the Spanish armada?

One factor that perhaps was overlooked was Spain’s rather dismal record on international friendlies post their World Cup 2010 win, with the L column registering the highest tally.

And on November 12, the side that had something to prove prevailed.

Throughout the match, I kept thinking about Xabi Alonso’s interview in The Guardian, where he notes some key differences between English and Spanish football player—it was evident in how both sides played, particularly in the first half, when the quality between both sides was just gaping. Obviously, the game changer (not just about the result, but what changed England’s psyche for the remainder of the game) was Frank Lampard’s header off a free kick to beat Pepe Reina and whoever else was supposed to mark him.

Still, a few key observations had to be made about La Roja’s performance: first, the midfield is not as tight as it usually is; second, there was no finishing—for all of Spain’s possession and technical quality, the England defense just snuffed out most of the attempts (England’s defensive line pretty much was made up of their 11 men); and third, hardly any Spaniard could break the defense, particularly in the last third of the game. Cesc Fabregas had the best chance for an equalizer, and he should have gone for goal instead of making the extra pass (which was intercepted).

Sure, the match was not the thriller that people expected it to be, yet England can only hope to take away a renewed confidence in how they perform as a team coming into Euro 2012. For Spain, Vicente del Bosque will be looking at what went wrong, but hey, I have confidence that the Spaniards will bring on the hunger and intensity during a match that matters. (Beat the World Champions, feel like World Champions—but hey, Spain are still the World Champions.)

Next up: a friendly versus Costa Rica. There were talks of a friendly versus China earlier in the year. Oh boy, if that had happened, maybe I’d be seeing my beloved team in the flesh already.

Side Notes: This is Xabi’s first time to play in Wembley, and he clocked a solid performance despite the loss. This is also a breakout game for Jordi Alba, who showed his quality as a left fullback. And for the love of all things handsome, what is that thing on Cesc Fabregas’ head?

It is also important to note that this is Iker Casillas’ 126th cap for Spain, tying Andoni Zubizarreta for most caps for country. Felicidades capitan!

And this is what it feels like to by on Skype with Iker (well, we can all dream, right?):

Azzurri contra La Roja

Weird.

That was one word to describe the friendly between Italy and Spain, which was early this morning, Manila time.

It was weird because of more than a few things:

This was a different look for La Roja, with several of our key players in the starting XI not being called up due to injury. These included: Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila, and Sergio Ramos (pretty much ¾ of the first unit for the backline defense), Cesc Fabregas (he, of the desperate, troubled, unkempt sort), and Xavi Hernandez (the midfield maestro). I told a couple of friends a few days before the match that I did not have a good feeling about it, and I hate it when my hunches were proven right. My hunches had something to do with the fact that the injury count was too high, and that the teams had spent a lot of time traveling days before the friendly (Barcelona had their U.S. tour, and Real Madrid came from a swingaround of Leicester-Guangzhou-Tianjin).

The dirty pitch seemed to have scraps of paper strewn all over it (c’mon, one of the reasons why football is called the beautiful game is because the pitch HAS to be perfect—this one looked like it had large chunks of dandruff peppering it). If the Italian defense can clean up nicely, whoever was in charge of the pitch certainly cannot.

Fernando Torres getting subbed early on, which was eventually revealed to be a concussion (Santa Madre Mía de Dios, I do not understand why there were a lot of cheers from folks on Twitter about Fernando Torres’ injury. The genuine Liverpool supporters I know have gotten over whatever negative feelings they’ve got for Torres [we moved on a long time ago with Suarez and Carroll, in case you haven’t figured those out], and the genuine Spain supporters I know continue to believe in El Niño [he made us believe over three years ago, and what he has achieved ranks high among fieles a La Roja]. As for the haters, you are sick people if you take delight in the player getting a concussion.

Spain was outplayed by Italy in the first half, or at least until Xabi Alonso scored off a penalty kick. The Spaniards could not get their rhythm on, left wide spaces for Italy to attack, and crumbled at the Italian defense (uh, five defenders to cover the lone striker should give you a good idea of how it went).

Apart from El Niño, Piqué also had to be substituted out of the match. Reports say he was feeling some discomfort prior to the match, but decided to play on. Another one on the injury list—and the Supercopa is days away! Now, if Cesc suits up for Barcelona, he’ll actually not be a benchwarmer—there’s an opportunity to play as center back!

So, how did it all play out?

Early onto the match, about the 11th minute, Riccardo Montolivo lifted the ball over an onrushing Iker Casillas, allowing Italy to draw first blood. Say what you want to say about San Iker, but he remains to be the best goalkeeper in the world. Italy had a couple more chances that he was able to save. I wouldn’t fault him for going out of his line—the man has been known to have an instinct as to where the opponents will go. Notice how even in the times he gets beaten, he actually is on the right direction.

As for Victor Valdes, who came in the second half, he made a good save once, but froze when Alberto Aquilani’s shot was deflected by Raul Albiol, which pretty much sealed the game for Italy well into the 85th minute. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Aquaman—but I would have much preferred he was wearing a red shirt!)

Was it a case of catenaccio beating out tiqui-taca? Well, if catenaccio is hinged on the assumption that the backline defense was well organized and highly effective, it wasn’t all that. Gigi Buffon was excellent at goal, which also meant Spain had a lot of attempts on goal that he saved (David Silva, in particular, was working his ass off for several shots). One in particular, had unlucky written over it—an attempt by Juanin Mata, which bounced off Fernando Llorente, who effectively acted as the line of defense prior to Buffon. Que pena!

Speaking of Llorente, he surely wasn’t at his best. I don’t know if the early substitution for Torres threw him off, but Floris was certainly sluggish, and when he could head the ball, he did not capitalize on such.  This is certainly quite a counterpoint to David Villa, who came on in the second half and made a splash with his shots on goal.

As for the defense, it was pretty much tested. Obviously, the Iraola-Piqué partnership still doesn’t work, and Italy capitalized on this.  Iraola was subbed in the second half by Thiago Alcantara (a bright spot in the futute of Spanish football), and Javi Martinez, who played the first half as a holding midfielder moved to the backline—yes, the future captain of Spain is quite a utility player. Let me also give credit to Alvaro Arbeloa, who was showing potential as a wingback.

And I am reserving the last of mentions for Xabi Alonso, the lone goalscorer for Spain, who was wearing the captain’s armband in the second half. The usual adjectives to describe Xabier (“flawless”, “classy”, “perfection”) came into mind when he calmly, coolly, and cleanly placed the ball right at the center of the goal, beating Gigi Buffon. (Yes, I was screaming “Te quiero mucho Xabi!” at 3 in the morning.)

So yes, it was weird all around. I’m not going to make excuses for Spain—they themselves have said that they lacked motivation for friendly matches. Credit to Italy for playing well and for playing like they’ve got something to prove.

I am purposely not resizing the Fernando Torres photo. I think his ass has more merits than his haters. 😉