By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Many of Spain's players had been here before. This was Barcelona-Bayern all over again and the deja vu was as fresh as it was frightening. Just as the Bavarians picked apart, pummeled, out-pressed and depressed the Catalans in the two-legged 7-0 Champions League humiliation back in April, Brazil broke an era-defining Spain side on Sunday.
Shell-shocked Spain were on the back foot from the outset as an electric Maracana inspired the home team to a scintillating start. Brazil came out flying and were ahead within two minutes as Fred profited to fire home a loose ball which should have been cleared by Alvaro Arbeloa with Gerard Pique and Iker Casillas also slow to react.
Spain had not conceded in any of their showpiece successes over the last five years, winning the Euro 2008 final 1-0 over Germany, beating Netherlands by the same scoreline at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and thrashing Italy 4-0 to claim Euro 2012 last summer. Now they had to react - but they couldn't.
Juan Mata set up Pedro for a glorious chance in what was the only meaningful moment from both players in a dire display from Spain's attackers, but David Luiz produced a miraculous clearance on the line to maintain the Selecao's cushion. It was only fair and minutes later, the scoreline truly reflected the play as Neymar smashed home to make it 2-0. Barcelona's new signing twice left Arbeloa in his wake, with the full-back unable to make a challenge, while Casillas was beaten at his near post - albeit by a thunderous effort.
Golden boy | Spain's defence was given a torrid time by Neymar
Arbeloa leads a charmed life in this Spain side. The former Liverpool right-back offers very little going forward and is too easily beaten by pace and trickery at the back. Given a torrid time by Neymar in the opening 45 minutes, he was replaced at the interval by Cesar Azpilicueta and on such form, should probably never return to the starting XI at all.
The second half began just like the first - with a Brazil goal - and Azpilicueta was guilty this time as he allowed Fred too much time and space to fire a second past Casillas, who should have made the save. One spectacular stop to deny Fred in the first half aside, this was a poor performance from the Spain skipper - perhaps his worst in 148 appearances for la Roja.
But there were sub-standard showings all over the pitch for Spain. Sergio Ramos was caught out of position time and time again, his misery compounded as he missed a penalty on 55 minutes which should have given the world champions a lifeline. Why he even took it at all is anyone's guess.
Meanwhile, his defensive partner Pique was caught ball-watching in the first goal and saw red later on for a clumsy challenge on Neymar which will make for an awkward first meeting at Barcelona training later this month.
And Jordi Alba, so impressive in attack throughout this tournament, was unable to have any impact going forward while he struggled to contain the threat of Hulk and also played Neymar onside for the second goal. Wherever you looked from a Spain perspective, this was not pretty.
A key feature of la Roja's success in recent years has been their pressing and it was notable in their first group game too against Uruguay. On Sunday, however, Vicente del Bosque's side had no answer to Brazil's high-tempo game. The home team had an extra day of rest ahead of the final, while Spain's energy was sapped by extra time and penalties in their semi-final success versus Italy. The 94 per cent humidity also suited the locals more than their visitors.
|We had to lose one day - we are not machines. Our conscience is clear because we gave everything
- Spain's Sergio Ramos
However, Del Bosque's decision to select virtually the same side for the third game in a row hardly helped matters. Xavi's tendon problems mean he struggles to recover as he used to and the midfielder's light has shone less brightly with each match in this competition. So much so, in fact, that it may flicker out altogether before too long. The Barcelona man was off the pace in this game and with just a three-man midfield in the absence through injury of Xabi Alonso and Javi Martinez left on the bench, there was little protection for the 33-year-old.
Club colleague Andres Iniesta tried his best and showed flashes of his brilliance, but his creativity and flair was stifled in a physical contest which left him battered, bruised and beaten down. And Busquets was shown up as well, his lack of pace exploited as he was overrun by a yellow wall in the centre of the park.
In attack, Torres (the most expensive player on the pitch at €58 million - a shade more than Neymar) did not cause a single problem for Brazil and may have felt embarrassed at full-time as he picked up his award for finishing as the tournament's top scorer with five (including four against Tahiti - a team with only one professional player).
Chelsea team-mate Mata flattered to deceive as well in a disappointing display, with Pedro poor once again. Indeed, substitute Jesus Navas produced more in two minutes than those three throughout as he won a penalty for a Marcelo foul shortly after emerging from the bench. Meanwhile, Spain's third substitute, David Villa, looked a fading force and Cesc Fabregas did not feature at all.
|I won't make excuses - they were better than us and that is that. Sometimes it's convenient to lose so you don't think you're unbeatable
- Spain coach Vicente del Bosque
It was the wrong line-up from Del Bosque, while changes came far too late nor in the areas needed - apart from Navas. Against Brazil's high-tempo pressing play and given Xavi's lack of mobility, la Roja lacked legs in midfield. And just like Barcelona against Bayern, there was no change in formation: Spain stuck to 4-3-3 and arrogantly persisted with a plan which simply wasn't working. They got exactly what they deserved - a brutal beating.
Put in perspective, this defeat need not be so dramatic. Four years ago, USA beat a strong Spain side 2-0 in the last Confederations Cup, yet Del Bosque's men went on to win the World Cup a year later and subsequently claimed Euro 2012 as well.
Hindsight has shown that to be something of a freak result and la Roja will hope this one is too. Next summer is what truly matters, but Brazil have given the champions plenty to think about before then. As Gianluca Vialli pointed out on Sunday, all great tactical trends are found out in the end - and tiqui-taca will need some serious tweaks and alternatives if Spain are to emerge as winners again in 2014.
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