El Centrocampista

The inquest begins as sub-standard Spain crash out

After going into the tournament as one of the favourites and confidant of adding the Olympic title to their overwhelming list of world dominance, Spain will instead travel home after their final group game in Manchester.

That encounter against Morocco is now an inconvenience for Luis Milla’s side after falling to a shock 1-0 defeat to Honduras at St James’ Park on Sunday evening – although they will be keen to avoid returning home with the dubious distinction of failing to score a single goal.

True they struck the woodwork three times against the Hondurans, who were on the back foot for most of the second half, however Spain in large, put in a shockingly under-par performance.

Following last week’s one goal loss to Japan, the match was a must-win for Milla’s side and few people expected anything less. It proved to be a lacklustre performance from La Roja however, and things were made all the harder after the Hondurans took the lead after just seven minutes.

As is to be expected, Spain dominated possession yet were unable to break down a determined rearguard, a mixture of bad luck and poor refereeing keeping them at bay.

Ultimately, however, the young Spaniards were the masters of their own downfall and their frustration came to a head in the closing stages as the match threaten to boil over – Iker Muniain most culpable for some petulant behaviour towards the referee.

Despite controlling vast swathes of the game, there was little of the sharp incisiveness we have come to expect from a Spanish side and the lack of a dominant ballplayer in the mould of Xavi Hernandez was glaringly obvious in a system that all-but demands it.

Thiago Alcantara is the one player who can go someway to replicating the senior side’s metronomic midfielder, however his injury has left Milla without an obvious focal point in the centre of the pitch.

Malaga’s Isco and Koke of Atletico Madrid both had disappointing games in midfield, which proved costly as there was a distinct absence of creativeness to capitalise on the overwhelming possession.

It could be argued that Spain were unlucky towards the end of the game as the brilliant Muniain attempted to win the game single-handedly, but in truth it was too little, far too late.

The young Athletic Club star also undid most of that good work when he barged into the referee, an act that could have seen him receive his marching orders.

The inquest will now begin as to what went wrong for a team that quite obviously should have done far better than they have. Fatigue may have played a part in the performance, so too the huge weight of expectation they are under. Whatever the reason, a Spanish football team find themselves in the unusual situation of not only failing to win a tournament, but also facing the prospect of exiting without scoring a single goal.

With less than three weeks until the start of the La Liga season, there will be little enthusiasm to remain in England to play their remaining match and Morocco have a real opportunity to hammer the final nail into the Spanish coffin. That would be the ultimate humiliation for Luis Milla and his side.

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