Spain must rise to the occassion
Vicente del Bosque spent much of Sunday's news conference before his side's final match against Australia talking about off-field matters. The frank exchange between Xabi Alonso and reporters after the Chile game has dominated the headlines, and the avuncular Spain coach's apparent spat with Cesc Fabregas has also taken precedence over Monday's game. This might have provided some relief for the beleaguered Del Bosque.
But the fact remains that Spain have to play this match, and as much as the players had hoped to at least be in the mix for the third place playoff, they have to shrug off the disappointment of the past two games and rise to the occasion. Paying supporters have made the journey to Brazil but have had little to cheer for so far. The inquisition at home over Spain's dismissal from the tournament at the first hurdle can wait until Tuesday.
Del Bosque confirmed Sunday that Xavi Hernandez will not play against Australia; the Barcelona midfielder has a muscle strain. His club teammate, Gerard Pique, didn't train and will also probably play no part. There will be no obvious revolution, at least in this game. Other than David Villa, no player has announced his intention to quit La Roja, but the writing is surely on the wall for some of the triumphant squads of 2008, 2010 and 2012. Xavi and Alonso might choose to go of their own accord, and if Iker Casillas' position at Real Madrid continues to be undermined, he might have little choice in the matter long term.
David de Gea is struggling to be fit, so Pepe Reina should be given a go in goal. Despite traveling to Germany and South Africa, the Napoli keeper still has yet to make a World Cup appearance. The final training session suggested a run-out for Juanfran, and some of the other players who have not yet gotten off the bench can expect some action, but there will be no immediate wholesale changes after the World Cup.
The likes of Sergio Ramos, David Silva, Sergio Busquets, Javi Martinez, Jordi Alba, Cesar Azpilicueta, Juan Mata, Koke, Pique and Fabregas of the current squad can expect to be fully involved when the Euro 2016 qualifiers kick off. Del Bosque confirmed Andres Iniesta will receive his 100th cap against the Socceroos, and it will be no surprise if he leads the side in France. Diego Costa, despite his subpar showing in Brazil, will be a viable option for many years.
The incorporation of players such as Gerard Deulofeu, Isco, Iker Muniain, Jese Rodriguez, Ander Herrera, Alberto Moreno, et al, is inevitable, but throwing them all into the team at the same time might have an effect similar to that of England's squad in Brazil: a lot quicker and certainly more fun to watch but no more accomplished than in previous years. It will be a gradual process; no blueprint is going to be torn up and redrawn overnight.
Del Bosque is known for his sense of loyalty, and it is to be hoped that he will let Villa stretch his legs fully in the Arena de Baixada. This might be the last farewell for some of Spain's golden generation, and none have worked harder for the cause than El Guaje, the country's record goal scorer. It would be a fitting end to his international career to bow out with another.
Spain have nothing to play for in this match, and neither do Australia, but only one of the squads will be traveling home with their heads high. The lowest-ranked team at the outset of the tournament, the Socceroos took the game to Chile and the Netherlands and very nearly pulled off a wonderful result against the latter. Spain have thus far been a parody of their all-conquering selves, and they owe it to their legacy to at least go out swinging. Anything else will lend more credence to Alonso's claim that the hunger and ambition have simply evaporated from the side. Then the knives will come out in earnest.