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Spain show Scotland why they are too good to have a World Cup hangover
Andy Hunter at Hampden Park - 3 years ago

Responsibility rests heavily on the head that wears the crown but Spain are gradually coming to terms with the expectation on a world champion. Lesser sides would have lost nerve in the face of a thoroughly unexpected Scotland fightback at Hampden Park but Vicente del Bosque's side reacted as their mantle demands – by remaining true to their ideals and the conviction that their style will bring reward. Yet again they were proved correct.

The casual defending that enabled Craig Levein's team to recover from two goals down promoted the argument of a World Cup hangover in this Spanish team. The visitors were certainly guilty of complacency after David Villa became the record goalscorer for his country with his 45th international goal and Andrés Iniesta slotted home a merited second. But it was their response to adversity that impressed most of all. Only when the substitute Fernando Llorente shattered Scotland with 11 minutes remaining did the first chant of "Campeones" resonate from the away contingent and, for all Hampden's pride, this was an outcome they could not dispute.

The Premier League's connection to the Spanish national team has been on the wane for some time, Xabi Alonso and Gerard Piqué having swapped Anfield and Old Trafford for the Camp Nou and Bernabéu respectively, and was accelerated at Hampden by the absence of the injured Cesc Fábregas and Fernando Torres. There is no greater illustration of Spain's riches – and the lack of homegrown talent at the summit of England's top tier – than the acknowledgement that two players who would grace any Premier League side when fit and on form would have been unlikely starters here anyhow. Yet it was an instructive night for followers of Manchester City and Liverpool.

South Africa provided a bittersweet experience for David Silva as he faded out of Del Bosque's starting XI while Spain's performances improved. His summer move from Valencia to Manchester City has not justified a £24m transfer fee but nor has it been the calamity it has been prematurely painted in some quarters either. Silva's mercurial talent and slender frame deserve patience as he adjusts to the transfer and his contribution against Scotland, while erratic, was a welcome riposte to the accusation he cannot handle the physicality of the British game.

The City midfielder, deployed wide on the right by Del Bosque, flourished in his individual contest with Rangers' Steven Whittaker while his intuitive understanding with the rampaging Sergio Ramos provided a constant outlet for the visitors to exploit. It was also notable how Spain's commitment to speed and numbers in attack, in contrast to Roberto Mancini's more considered approach at Eastlands, benefited Silva immensely. The winger sliced through the Scotland defence on one slalom run, picked out Villa with an inviting chip from the byline after another and forced a low save from Allan McGregor following a flowing one-touch move between five Spain players that illustrated "tiki-taka" – to borrow Ian Holloway's description of their style –to perfection. On the down side he squandered a clear opening when Xabi Alonso lofted a glorious chip over Stephen McManus and was fortunate to escape a booking when he flicked a foot out at Graham Dorrans after the ball had gone.

That Alonso pass, incidentally, was just one of several stunning executions of the art by Spain's No14. For Liverpool supporters now forced to endure a Christian Poulsen-Lucas Leiva midfield axis where once Alonso and Javier Mascherano trod, the Real Madrid man's performance would have induced a tear in the eye, even in one made of glass. There should also be unease at Anfield over José Reina losing his customary reserve goalkeeper's place behind Iker Casillas to Victor Valdés of Barcelona, the Liverpool No1 suffering perhaps as a result of a costly mistake against Argentina last month but also uncharacteristic form at club level this season.

With Xavi out injured, the onus was on Alonso to supply his forward line and he excelled at the task. The Basque set an imperious tone with his first touch, a trademark crossfield pass that dropped on Silva's toes over 60 yards away, and arched a sublime ball around McManus only for Villa to slice over with McGregor to beat. He finally received the end product his distribution deserved when releasing Villa inside the Scotland area in the build-up to Spain's second goal through Iniesta.

Spain's ability and willingness to adapt is another key foundation to their recent successes. Iniesta started on the left, switched at one stage to the right and ended the game floating in his familiar central role, while Ramos resembled an orthodox winger at times as the visitors strove to regain the lead. The loss of a two-goal cushion, however, was grist to the mill of those in Spain who have cited complacency in the champions since that ultimate triumph in July. But Llorente provided the killer riposte.

This is comment. GNM does not necessarily support the views expressed.

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