04 June 2008

Spain 1-0 USA

Yep, it looks like I might jinx it. Aside from a moment of brilliance from Xavi, it was a sub-par game with little offered in front of goal by either side, and was about as lackluster as England’s matches last week. I was hoping this wouldn’t be the case, and I apologize in advance to true Spanish fans.

Admittedly, in their final match before Euro 08, Spain were nowhere near guns blazing, while the US was vastly improved from last week’s performance at Wembley. But the first half, which is when both Torres and Alonso were on the field, was nearly unwatchable.

While I’m hesitant to put much stock in it, as it’s the first time I’ve seen Spain since the World Cup and it was, after all, a warm-up friendly, Spain looked very one-dimensional, reliant on their passing game to cut the opposition apart. And the US defended well, better than against the English despite deploying the same back line, and with a number of players crowding out Spanish attackers trying to pass through the center of the pitch.

All too often, Torres was isolated (but a willing worker, showing no effects of the ankle knock), while Capdevilla and Sergio Ramos provided the width from fullback with Alonso, Fabregas, and Xavi frequently congested in the midfield. Outside of Xavi’s header from a Ramos cross and a Torres turn and shot, I’m hard-pressed to think of any concrete chances.

Much of the reason for the US improvement was Adu starting in place of Wolff behind Johnson as a lone striker. Adu, and the US as a whole, looked more composed on the ball in the first half, with Adu creating a memorable moment with an excellent long pass out of defense to Johnson, who surprisingly contrived to scuff the shot. In addition, I though both Eddie Lewis (in place of Beasley) and Maurice Edu (in place of Clark) were upgrades from the last match.

The second half saw a number of changes for both sides, with Guiza and Senna on for Torres and Alonso and Guzan, Hedjuk and Beasley on for Howard, Cherundolo and Adu, and with Adu seemingly forced off at halftime, the US had far less attacking impetus. Spain were able to keep possession and put the screws to the US, although they continued to struggle breaking through the US backline.

While both Xavi and Senna hit the woodwork, the longer the second half went on, the more it looked likely to end even, especially with the US seemingly content with 0-0. But in the 79th minute, Fabregas fed Xavi, whose delightful turn got him past Bradley and Bocanegra. The captain eluded Onyewu and Hedjuk as well before slotting past Guzan. I’m not doing the goal justice by any means; it was a fantastic run and a stunning individual goal. Here’s hoping it’s replicated often in the coming weeks.

As it relates to Liverpool, only Reina saw no action out of the four in the Spanish squad. Both Torres and Alonso played the first half, and neither had much to write home about. As said, Torres was often isolated, but got off one shot from a trademark quick turn and looked fully fit. Alonso had a few pretty long-range passes playing as the deepest midfielder (in the role that Senna’s usually in), but as he’s been for Liverpool this season, was wild in the tackle at times. In addition, the trio of Alonso, Xavi, and Fabregas didn’t link up as well as hoped, and while it’s unfair to single out Xabi, both Cesc and Xavi were more influential when Senna was on the field. Arbeloa came on for the last few minutes, with Sergio Ramos pushing up to midfield.

While I watched this game paying closer attention to Spain, I admittedly grew more interested in the US’ progression from last week’s match. Adu was excellent in the first half (as was Lewis), the defense did well to close down Spain’s line of attack, and despite the loss, it wasn’t a bad result for a young team looking to do battle against established international sides.

And with that said, even though this was a friendly, and it’s mid-season for the MLS players, I think this match meant more to the US. They feel they have a point to prove to the footballing world, while Spain was content to use this as a warm-up and get through it unscathed. For the most part, both teams did what they set out to do.

Spain’s first group game, against Russia, is next Tuesday at 11:50am on espn2.

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