Casillas; Game Over

Sustaining international excellence is hard. There is a constant tug of war between continuity and adaptation. The more success a team has the harder it is to make (or to even see) necessary changes. There is the fickleness of soccer and tournament play. Players age and, having success at club and International level, rack up mileage. That’s before you get to the trouble of motivating players who have done it all to keep hitting that prime level of focus and dedication. There’s a reason three of the past four World Cup champions (and three of the past four European champions) crashed out in the group stage at the next World Cup. Winning one tournament makes you a legend. Winning three is absurd. In retrospect, phasing Xavi out after Euro 2012 would have been a wise decision. After that tournament, Xavi’s decline was hypothetical. The past season at club level it has been manifest. He was no longer in a position to carry Spain. As they showed in the second match against Chile, the Spanish had no conception of a way to play without him.

The same goes for Iker Casillas. He was once among the world’s best goalkeepers. But, for the past two seasons, he hasn’t been the starter at Real Madrid. He looked unsure in the Champions League Final. That form extended into this tournament, where his flubs were responsible for multiple goals. It’s easier on paper to remove Xavi (most influential Barca player) and Casillas (most influential Real Madrid player) than in practice. But necessary decisions are seldom easy. A national team coach should have been prepared to make them. Some of Spain’s problems were uncontrollable. The Spanish had no ready replacement for Carlos Puyol at center back. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué did not work well together. Playing an unfit Piqué in the first match was a bad option. Playing an out-of-form Javi Martinez there in the second was not that much better of one.

Iker Casillas, Spain’s bedrock in goal since the 2002 World Cup, wound up with a day to forget vs. the Netherlands. Four years ago San Iker came up with huge save in Spain’s win in extra time against the Netherlands, helping the country win its first World Cup and third straight major tournament. Before everyone rushes to write off Spain, remember it lost to Switzerland in its 2010 World Cup opener and went on to win the tournament. Casillas will catch most of the flack, but the miserable days from defenders Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique shouldn’t be overlooked. Integrating striker Diego Costa who hasn’t logged very many games alongside the Real Madrid and Barcelona players who comprise the core of the Spanish team, looks like it might not have been as easy as most pundits assumed, too. (


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