Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
Navas Xavi Villa
Villa 17’ 51’
Normal service has resumed. Sort of.
It was 4-2-3-1 again, with Alonso and Busquets “holding,” but the changes to the front four made a vast difference and the result was never in doubt. It was about as dominating a 2-0 win as you’ll see, but that was due more to Honduran impotence than Spanish supremacy. La Furia Roja wasted multiple opportunities to add to their haul, looking increasingly casual as the match went on.
It was little surprise to see Torres and Navas start after how Del Bosque tried to change the game against Switzerland, but that it relegated Villa to the left was a bit of a shock, especially with both Silva and Iniesta left out. Seeing the starting XI before the match made me expect a 4-3-3/4-1-2-3 but Villa manned the left flank, looking to cut in, while Torres stayed in the lone striker role he’s perfected at Liverpool.
Having Villa on the wing did little to nullify his goal threat, while Navas on the opposite flank helped stretch Honduras’ defense, creating space that wasn’t there last Wednesday. And it was evident from the opening whistle as Spain hit the crossbar – Villa, naturally – and had two penalties shouts – a missed handball and an ignored shove on Ramos – within the first ten minutes.
And it only took 17 to break the deadlock with an absolutely stunning solo goal. Villa cut in from the left and somehow split two defenders before bamboozling Chavez to find space for an unstoppable shot past Valladares despite losing his footing. Highlight. Reel.
From there, it should have been that man Torres extending Spain’s lead. But his lack of match fitness was evident, mis-hitting a free header into the ground and ballooning over after a clever run in the space of 60 seconds around the half-hour mark. Despite Honduras having next to no possession and even fewer chances, a 1-0 lead at the break gave Honduras the chance to snatch an undeserved equalizer, as we’ve seen a fair few times this tournament. But six minutes after the restart, El Guaje sealed the match, arguably lucky to still be on the field after a strange bust-up in the box on a 41st minute corner saw him pop Izaguirre in the mouth.
With Honduras throwing bodies forward the few times they were allowed possession, Spain counter-attacked with a 4-on-4 break. Xavi led the way before slotting in Navas, whose cutback found Villa in acres of space. Yes, he may have been lucky, seeing his shot deflect in off Chavez, but here’s where I resort to the usual clichés, this time reminding that it’s often better to be lucky than good, especially in knockout tournaments.
Yet Spain obstinately refused to increase the gap. Ramos shot narrowly wide seconds after the second goal. Villa missed a penalty, just wide of the post, after Navas was unnecessarily brought down. Fabregas was put through over the top, rounding the keeper only to see his narrow shot scooped off the line by a retreating defender. Mendoza dove in to prevent Villa’s hat-trick after Navas charged down the right on the break and set-up the striker.
Even considering those chances, Spain seemed content with the margin of victory as the match went on, taking off Xavi, Torres, and Ramos for Cesc, Mata, and Arbeloa, and were mostly content to counter. At the same time, both the passing and off the ball movement got lazier, in complete contrast to the first half. Over-intricacy in the final third was constant. None of these are good signs, despite how secure Spain were throughout.
There’s far too large a chance that Spain will rue not scoring more. Only tallying twice today, they’ve a goal difference of +1 going into the last group match. If they win on Friday, they're through. But if Switzerland beats Honduras by more than Spain beats Chile, Spain will finish second in the group. And that means a match-up with Brazil.
Make no mistake, it was a far better performance than against Switzerland. The attack was much more fluent despite the aforementioned concerns, and there was none of the Keystone Cops defending that led to Gelson Fernandes’ goal. Torres will find his feet in search of match fitness, while Villa continues to be able to create goals from nothing. Navas brought more balance to the side, while Fabregas was dangerous from the bench. But the way Spain tailed off in the second half invites some skepticism.
With Chile leading the group with six points and Spain and Switzerland level on three, everything’s still in the balance. It may be low scoring (outside of the inevitable North Korean collapse against Portugal), but it’s certainly ceased being a boring World Cup.