x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Nations face mental block when facing Spain

As another team falls to the Spanish juggernaut, Andy Mitten looks at ways to stop the champions.

Spain's players celebrate their goal against Georgia during the World Cup 2014 qualifying match.
Spain's players celebrate their goal against Georgia during the World Cup 2014 qualifying match.

A Georgia defender lay flat on his back, hands covering his face in anguish. His teammate and man of the match Aleksandr Amisulashvili looked on distraught as the Spanish players celebrated.

Georgia, ranked 86 places below the world's No 1 team on the Fifa rankings, had survived a Spanish onslaught for 85 minutes in their opening World Cup qualifier.

The raucous 55,000 crowd in the Georgia capital Tbilisi grew in confidence the longer their country held out. Until the resistance was finally broken five minutes from time, when Valencia's Roberto Soldado half volleyed in a Cesc Fabregas assist.

"It was a very difficult game," said Spain's coach Vicente del Bosque. "We suffered and it was intense."

Georgia's ultra-defensive style frustrated Spain. They never gave up attempting to attack, never gave up dominating possession and had the ball for an astonishing 81 per cent of play.

Spain finally got their reward and three points to set them on the road to Brazil, where they hope to become the first European country to win the World Cup on South American soil.

Georgia's tactics confirmed how teams will try to cope with the world and European champions.

Rivals feel that they have no chance of beating the Spaniards - and given they have not lost a game at home for seven years that is understandable - so they do not try to win, but instead hold out for a draw.

The tactics can make for unedifying one-sided spectacles, but what else can a team do against a side that is by a distance the best in the world?

Most of the Spanish players are used to it. The majority of their stars play for Barcelona and teams have defended desperately against them for years, occasionally with success.

Such anti-football is a tribute to Spain's brilliance, even if it is harder to show when they are attacking an eight man defence. The best scenario is that Spain get an early goal, forcing their opponents to come out. Only then do you see Spain at their best. Spain's next qualifier is in Belarus, followed by France's visit to Iberia. Expect more of the same.

There could be an unlikely change. More than a million Catalans marched for independence on Tuesday. If that happens, Spain's many Catalan players would not be able to play for Spain. It may take a political break up to do what opponents have failed to do - defeat Spain.


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