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How Vicente Del Bosque's Spain Fell From Grace So Suddenly

29/06/2014 21:42 BST | Updated 29/08/2014 10:59 BST

It was one of the great surprises of modern football. Spain were second favourites for the World Cup, having won their last three major tournaments and qualifying for Brazil with ease - not losing a match on the way and conceding three goals in eight games. They looked characteristically unbeatable.

They controlled the opening periods of their first group match in the tournament proper, against a Netherlands side thought by many to be significantly weaker than the one that made the final four years ago. Spain were a goal up after a Xabi Alonso penalty and came within inches of doubling their lead when David Silva was denied by the Dutch keeper.

The game was inching towards half time with the Spanish looking like continuing the imperious form which brought them to the peak of world football, before a moment of magic from Robin van Persie broke the spell with an outrageous diving header that he had no right to score. It looped over Iker Casillas to level the tie and something seemed to snap.

After the interval, a tide of orange shirts poured forward and for the first time in years the Spanish back line had no answer for them. The Netherlands scored a second, a third, an impossible fourth and then Arjen Robben finished the scoring to make it 5-1 to the under-fancied Dutch.

To put that in context, Spain conceded a total of three goals on their way to the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 titles put together. It wasn't just a loss, it was a demolition that sent shockwaves through the tournament.

Spain went on to be bested by Chile in their second group match too and saw their title defence end after just two games.

But how? How could a side so consistently dominant for years fall apart so suddenly?

As with most things, it serves us well to first examine the foundations. Between the 2002/03 season and Spain's Euro 2012 victory, Iker Casillas was undoubtedly Real Madrid's number one keeper - missing a maximum of three league games a season. How many league games did Casillas play in the most recent La Liga season? Two.

It would be easy to blame Spain's remarkable capitulation entirely on Casillas' dip in form and subsequent dropping from Madrid's first team. After all, he was directly responsible for, arguably, three of the seven goals that they conceded. But to do so would mask a greater problem.

That 'greater problem' was that they began to doubt themselves. Not openly, but it manifested itself in small ways. After they were taken apart by Brazil in the Confederations Cup final a year ago, Spain began to search for a Plan B for when their world-beating tiki-taka style didn't break teams down early on. That Plan B came, in the World Cup, in the form of Diego Costa. And then Plan B became Plan A.

Costa was clearly not entirely fit as the tournament started, but it wasn't his performances that were the problem - it was his mere presence. For years now, Xavi and Andres Iniesta have played a certain way together, for both club and country. Suddenly they were asked to play the ball into a big powerful striker for the first time in years. It was a shock to the system and one that they never looked like adapting to.

They gave the ball away left, right and centre. Xavi and Iniesta giving the ball away is like banks giving away free money - unthinkable and jarring, but something that opportunists will take full advantage of. The Netherlands and Chile filled their pockets.

Many have said that between Barcelona failing to win a single trophy this season and Spain's early exit in Brazil, tiki-taka is dead. They could be right, but perhaps not for the reasons they think. Vicente del Bosque and his side didn't lose because their long-successful style failed them, but because they didn't use it. They played the early ball for Costa and lost possession over and over again, rather than keep the ball and wear down the opposition. Self-doubt killed tiki-taka.

They have been dethroned - for now. But this isn't necessarily the end. Iniesta has another World Cup in him, as do the central defensive pairing of Ramos and Pique. Much of the talent remains, but it just has to be remoulded into something new. Vicente del Bosque has been given the Spanish FA's full backing to continue as head coach and has two years to turn the ship around.

Could he do it? Could Spain win Euro 2016?

Don't bet against it just yet.

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