Pain for Spain as little gained

It was 90 minutes to forget for world champions Spain at Soccer City. It’s ironic then, that due to a technicality, the result may be rendered null. Spain had their full complement of substitutions when Victor Valdes went down clutching his knee.

After the goalkeeping shirt was momentarily passed on to Alvaro Arbeloa, the fourth official allowed them to bring on Pepe Reina to the fury of the Bafana Bafana manager Gordon Igesund and, one suspects, FIFA will look long and hard at the matter.

Valdes had been one of the substitutes after a goalless first half, replacing the captain Iker Casillas. The World Cup holders had opened brightly, having a goal ruled out for offside within the opening five minutes. But it would get no better for La Roja. Rather, it was the opposite.

The scheduling of this friendly fixture, like so many others since they were crowned in this stadium in 2010, was questionable. Having limped over the line in Equatorial Guinea at the weekend, most of the players on show looked like they’d have been happier elsewhere.

One of the few bright spots in that opening half had been the performance of Xabi Alonso, who started alongside Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta in Vicente del Bosque’s preferred double pivot.

It was a night to forget for Juventus forward Fernando Llorente as many of the more promising Spain moves broke down at his feet. The former Athletic Bilbao man at least posed a threat on occasion from crosses, coming close to breaking the deadlock with a header just inside the half-hour mark.

Llorente noted before the game that things had got that little bit harder for him and his fellow forwards in light of Diego Costa’s decision to switch his international allegiance to Spain. David Villa was insipid, and Alvaro Negredo also failed to impress. It’s not hard to imagine that a fit and firing Costa would be a better fit for that problem area.

Spain managed a total of three shots in the opening period, as many as their opponents. South Africa had repeatedly unsettled Spain through direct runs through the middle and balls spread to the flanks. But the goal had a touch of Tiki-Taka about it as substitute Bernard Parker played a neat one-two before rifling past Valdes.

Two substitutes, Juan Mata and Jesus Navas were arguably Spain’s better performers. But nobody would emerge with credit. If Spain’s greatest moment came on this very ground, then one has to go back to their Confederations Cup exit to the USA the year before to think of a display as poor as this.

It was a theme noted by Del Bosque when asked if for his appraisal. “It could be,” he said when it was put to him that it was Spain’s worst performance in recent times. “It was deserved and they opened us up on the counter”.

For Spain, once again, this was an opportunity spurned. As most of the big guns pitted themselves against fellow heavyweights, they trundled around Africa battling middling sides and learning little new.