Monday, July 2, 2018 2:29 pm
Spain defeat to Russia in the round of 16 has set the 2010 champions back a decade and brought an end to a glorious generation.
The idea that Spain could be sent home by the lowest-ranked team in the tournament would have sounded preposterous just a month ago.
As the minutes ticked by at the Luzhniki stadium it seemed ever more likely.
Despite making an astounding 1,107 total passes, Spain could not break the 1-1 deadlock.
Their fate was finally sealed when Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev booted away Iago Aspas’s spot kick to cap a 4-3 shootout win for the hosts.
Perennial underachievers on the international stage, Spain rid themselves of that tag during a glorious cycle between 2008 and 2012 when they won back-to-back titles.
But to the national media, this latest fiasco was all too familiar.
“Spain step back 10 years” said newspaper El Pais, while Marca declared, “Spain return to the past”.
Where Spain go from here is far from clear.
They are without a coach and are soon set to be without many of the players that have been part of the future for so long.
Andres Iniesta confirmed his international retirement immediately after the game and Gerard Pique is set to join him. Sergio Ramos and David Silva will be 34 by Euro 2020.
“The end of a generation”, said the cover of newspaper AS.
The decision to dispense with coach Julen Lopetegui days before the World Cup having failed to tell the federation about his move to Real Madrid was inevitably brought up.
The decision, taken by federation president Luis Rubiales, had the backing of large sections of the media and influential former players like Xavi Hernandez
Some players who had worked with Lopetegui for two years were unsettled.
Koke, who also missed in the shootout, said it had been hard to lose him.
“We lost our leader,” said the midfielder after the game.
Interim manager Fernando Hierro’s lack of coaching experience was there to see when he brought on Dani Carvajal and Andres Iniesta after initially dropping them from the starting line-up.
Hierro seemed unsuited to his sudden transformation from director of football to head coach.
“I arrived wearing a suit, I’ll leave wearing a tracksuit,” the former Real Madrid defender said two weeks ago.
He did not expect to be leaving Russia so soon but given the turmoil that enveloped Spain’s campaign, no one could really have been surprised by their early exit. (Reuters/NAN)