BARÇA STAR GETS THE BIRD, SPAIN DEBUTS IN THE WOMEN’S WORLD CUP
The Spanish Week in Review
With the domestic saga of La Primera finally done and dusted, attention switched to the international game as the Spanish selecciones were in action in Euro 2016 qualifying and the Women’s World Cup.
It also meant the press had less cud to chew on so they homed in on a silly quip Gerard Pique had made at Barcelona’s post Champions League party and regurgitated the old Real v Barca rivalry all week.
Pique’s probably inebriated joke about Cristiano Ronaldo’s birthday party being the start of Barça’s season was hardly offensive, and par for the course among celebrating Barcelona fans.
The largely Real-supporting media’s faux Agen Dominoqq outrage not only betrayed their childishly partisan approach to football reporting but also revealed a stark hypocrisy:
If it had not been for them making such a fuss over the party incident – when the Colombian DJ broke the house rules and tweeted perfectly innocent party photos, that night would not have become an issue so big it may have unsettled Carlo Ancelotti’s team psychologically.
They cannot on one had attack their favourite team for being unprofessional and at the same time get angry when Barcelona thank them for handing them an advantage.
SPAIN 2:1 COSTA RICA, Leon 13,000
The witchhunt of Pique continued into Thursday, when he was booed arriving in Leon for Spain’s friendly with Costa Rica, and whistled relentlessly throughout the game every time he touched the ball.
There were voices chanting his name in support, but Castilla y Leon is largely madridista, as the jeers and whistles drowned out the opposition and the Football Federation’s regional representative Marcelino Mate failed to condemn the jeers, calling them “understandable.”
Again, not a little hypocrisy was in evidence as many of those disrepecting La Roja via Pique had probably moaned about the Barcelona and Bilbao regionalists who drowned out the Spanish national anthem at the Copa del Rey final.
It certainly tarnished Leon’s big night, as the province is a bit of a football wasteland – its best team Ponferradina finished seventh in the second division, while Leonesa are stuck in the third, and the city had not hosted a Spain match for twelve years.
The media’s inflation of the domestic division of loyalties between blaugrana and merengue was not welcome on the international stage.
At least Pique stood up for himself, playing with calm assurance and refreshingly refusing to apologise to all those Real fans whose feelings had been so hurt.
“Not at all,” he said when asked if he regretted the joke. “I would say it again. There was a celebration and it was a simple joke. What has happened is that the repercussions they wanted to give it which I can’t control anymore.”
Spain won the match 2-1 against Costa Rica, who despite scoring first were disappointing after their remarkable run in the World Cup last summer.
La Roja looked a little rudderless too as their experimental lineup was sliced open after only five minutes when Joel Campbell set up Johan Venegas to slot home.
Vicente del Bosque had picked only two of the familiar faces of the Spanish Edad de Oro (golden age) – Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Ramos to start.
Actually, the masked Fabregas was anything but a familiar face, but his 83 minutes means the manager must see the 28 year-old as a key player for the next few years now Xabi Alonso and Xavi has gone and the 31 year-old Andres Iniesta is no longer an automatic choice at club level.
David de Gea was selected ahead of Iker Casillas, while another Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas was between the sticks at the other end. This was De Gea’s chance to affirm he is the future but the only shot on target in the first half beat him.
The Spanish defence had Real’s Daniel Carvajal and Bayern Munich’s Juan Bernat as full-backs with Ramos and Barcelona’s Marc Bartra in the middle.
While Ramos played a captain’s game at the back, Athletic Bilbao’s Mikel San Jose wandered around to little effect in front of the defence.
The forward line was inexperienced indeed: Valencia’s Paco Alcacer up front with Celta Vigo’s Nolito on the left and Sevilla debutant Aleix Vidal on the right.
Alcacer repaid the manager’s faith by equalizing in the eighth minute and Fabregas made it 2-1 on the half hour but Spain failed to shine in the first 45, battling Costa Rica constantly but not dominating.
It was only in the second half when Del Bosque made six changes that Spain started to motor however, particularly when the dribblers David Silva and Santi Cazorla replaced Nolito and Koke.
Silva was the real star of the show, cutting through the Costa Ricans with ease and bringing his teammates fast into the last third to create some real ‘verticality’ in Spain’s game.
There were no more goals but the second half saw a rejuvenated Spain create plenty of chances, kept at bay by an alert Navas, who vied with Silva for the man of the match.
The general verdict was that Spain played positively after the break and showed much energy of old, a refreshing improvement from the misery of Brazil. The old magic has not disappeared completely yet. Fabregas scored one and set up another, while Pique and Ramos ruled the roost at the back.
That said, the second string or next generation are yet to really show they can take on their mantle, although Cazorla and Silva seem cut from the same cloth as the golden generation. Alcacer too, is slowly making waves. He took his goal neatly from a one-on-one with Navas and has netted four in six now for la seleccion.
Sevilla’s Aleix Vidal twisted his ankle and will miss the Sunday night clash with Belarus.
Spain : De Gea, Ramos (Pique 58), San Jose (Busquets 75), Bartra, Carvajal, Fabregas (Isco 83), Vidal (Vitolo 46) Koke (Cazorla 60), Bernat, Nolito (Silva 59), Alcacer.
Unused Subs: Morata, Alba, JuanFran, Pedro, Casillas, Rico
Coach: Vicente Del Bosque