Spain could be five points behind France if they lose in Paris on Tuesday, which is not impossible considering how they struggled against Finland
It has not been the best week for Vicente del Bosque but it is the future that will trouble the Spain coach, not the past.
It all started last Tuesday when José Mourinho said there had been "irregularities" when the Spaniard was voted Fifa Coach of the Year and ended, on Friday night, with an "unthinkable" 1-1 draw in the World Cup qualifier against Finland. Mourinho's claims will not perturb the 62-year-old Del Bosque much but the two dropped points against an ultra-defensive opponent will, because next up, on Tuesday, is France in Paris.
Should Spain lose that Group I qualifier and fall five points behind France something even more unthinkable could happen: the world and European champions could miss out on automatic qualification to the 2014 World Cup and have to try to reach Brazil via the play-offs.
"It seems impossible that, after dominating the first and second half, we have drawn the match," said Del Bosque. "They closed us down very well and then the unthinkable happened – they scored. We didn't think about them counterattacking enough. We dominated the game so much that our defenders began to think that all they needed to do was attack."
Finland, as someone said on Friday night, did not so much park the bus in their own penalty area as plonk it there, take off the wheels and abandon it. Still, Spain will be worried by the lack of goals against a side bottom of the group. David Villa, Santi Cazorla and David Silva started up front for Spain – and Del Bosque threw on Alvaro Negredo, Juan Mata and Pedro in the second half but to no avail.
Sergio Ramos had given Spain the lead just after half-time in what was his 100th cap at the age of only 26 but Teemu Pukki stunned the crowd in Gijón with his equaliser in the 79th minute.
"We could have been more clinical in front of goal but not to have won is too big a punishment," Del Bosque added. "We didn't have [any] luck in the final third. We have been touched by a magic wand in terms of luck in recent years, but we didn't have any tonight."
The Spanish papers were mightily unimpressed. "Another big slip-up," was the front-page headline in sports daily Marca on Saturday after a second consecutive home draw in qualifying following last October's 1-1 draw with France.
"The World Cup is in danger," read Sport's front page while in AS, Alfredo Relaño, wrote: "The tiki-taka, the way of playing I like the most and the one that has made Spain so successful and so well loved, fell flat against the organised Finnish defence. This type of play needs a level of precision that was non-existent last night. Our men were not capable, as they have been so many times, of passing the ball through tight spaces."
Del Bosque left Xabi Alonso on the bench throughout the match and Xavi did not play either, trying to ease his way back from injury. Both midfielders are expected to play against France, however, and the coach remains optimistic of winning the group despite the setback against the Finns, who are guided by the former Hibernian and Kilmarnock manager Mixu Paatelainen.
"There is no need to be pessimistic because we still hold our destiny in our own hands," he said. "We are still a good team and now have to go to France and win and after that there are still three more games. We will look to have the initiative against France, just as we did against Finland."
Spain will be without Jordi Alba for the game in Paris after the full-back pulled up injured against Finland as well as David Silva, who is suspended.
France, despite beating Georgia 3-1 on Friday night, have their own problems with Karim Benzema's scoring drought the main cause for concern. The Real Madrid striker has not found the net in his last 11 games for Les Bleus and while Mathieu Valbuena, Olivier Giroud and Franck Ribéry all scored, Benzema left the field empty-handed.
With Spain's luck at the moment, though, Benzema could well end his drought on Tuesday and send Del Bosque's team hurtling towards the play-offs. The money would still be on Spain to crush any opponent to come their way in a play-off but there are no guarantees. At the moment, the second-placed teams in the World Cup qualifying are Greece, Israel, Albania, Hungary, Sweden, Bulgaria, Croatia and, yes, England.
Very few people would put any money on Roy Hodgson's team, for example, eliminating Spain in a two-legged pay-off but then very few people thought Greece would win Euro 2004 or that Wimbledon would win the 1988 FA Cup final against Liverpool. And while it is almost laughable to think that Spain may miss out on next year's tournament it is also true that sometimes, in football, the unthinkable happens.