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Spain ‘facing tough’ choices after Netherlands humiliation Champions left reeling by record defeat

SALVADOR, June 14, (Agencies): Chastened Spain coach Vicente del Bosque faces some serious soul-searching after his team of champions were brutally exposed and destroyed 5-1 by Netherlands in a shocking World Cup Group B loss on Friday. Spain’s humiliating defeat in Salvador in their opening game, by far the heaviest under Del Bosque since he took over in 2008, was their biggest at a World Cup since they lost 6-1 to Brazil in 1950 and only their fourth competitive loss under the affable 63-year-old. Although the match started well for the holders and they led 1-0 through Xabi Alonso’s penalty, they were ripped to shreds by the rampant Dutch in the second half.

Proven winners of the calibre of goalkeeper Iker Casillas, centre backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique and midfielders Xavi and Alonso were simply brushed aside by their opponents’ intensity and muscular tactics, with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie in devastating form. Fans around the world used to watching Spain effortlessly dominating opponents with their “tiki-taka” brand of passing football watched opened-mouthed as the Dutch poured forward and repeatedly breached the Spanish line.

Although Casillas had a terrible game by his standards, surrendering possession to gift Van Persie his second goal, if it had not been for a number of superb saves the Netherlands could have won even more comfortably. Spain’s desperately ragged performance will leave Del Bosque wondering whether a serious overhaul is needed before they face Chile in their next game on Wednesday. An indication of the scale of Friday’s reverse is that on their way to winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Spain conceded a mere six goals in 19 games.

Del Bosque is unlikely to drop Casillas, the team captain, but Pique could be dropped after the Barcelona player was made to look slow and witless by the Dutch forwards. Javi Martinez, a converted midfielder with pace and strength, has looked assured at the back in Spain’s last two warm-up matches and could partner Ramos. In midfield, it might be time for Xavi and Alonso to make way, with Koke and Santi Cazorla the obvious replacements. Reverting to a system without a recognised centre forward, which was so successful at Euro 2012, and playing Cesc Fabregas instead of Diego Costa or Fernando Torres, is another option.

“When a team loses a match it’s not just the performance of one single player, it’s a weakness in the whole squad,” Del Bosque told a news conference. “I feel very upset and disappointed but I have enough experience to understand this defeat,” he added. “We are all to blame. We have to look ahead and secure a win against Chile.” Del Bosque can take comfort from the fact that Spain lost their opening game at the 2010 World Cup to Switzerland but eventually went through as group winners. However, unless he can find a way to fix what was wrong with the team on Friday, he and his players may find themselves returning to Spain much earlier than anyone expected.

Even if they manage to finish second in the group, Spain will probably face hosts Brazil in the last 16. “We didn’t react well to Van Persie’s second goal — they were euphoric and they hammered us,” said del Bosque. “In the second-half, they were simply better than we were and they overwhelmed us. “Now isn’t the time to point the finger of blame at each other, we are all to blame. “We need to try to find solutions and win the two remaining games, starting with our next game against Chile.” In a group that was always expected to be hotly contested and liable to be settled by goal difference, Spain now have little margin for error if they are to avoid a stunning first round elimination.

“It is one of the toughest defeats of my career,” admitted the 34-year-old Xavi. “We did everything wrong in the second-half, it was a debacle.” Spain conceded two goals at the last World Cup and three in their qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014, leaving Del Bosque at a loss to explain the five-goal mauling. “I can’t find the words to explain that, we are normally solid in defence, but today we were very weak,” said Del Bosque. “You have to acknowledge the performances of Van Persie and Robben.”

Spain bounced back from losing their first game at the last World Cup to Switzerland by winning the South Africa 2010 title. The 63-year-old del Bosque was praised for sticking to his principles despite defeat to the Swiss four years ago and is likely to do so again. That loyalty to those who have won in the past has borne great success over his six-year spell in charge with the Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 titles combined with their 2010 World Cup win.

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