A Spanish loss no one expected

By CHRIS ZIEMER

(Editor’s note: Chris Ziemer, Sonoma Academy athletic director and head girls soccer coach, is blogging for The Press Democrat at the World Cup in South Africa).

June 16-17, 2010

Durban, South Africa –

Spain, say it isn’t so…

I write this with a heavy heart as I recently returned from Spain’s 1-0 loss to Switzerland.

Actually, I just finished my paella dinner (which was worth the wait and put a nice end to a day in which one of my favorite teams and the host country both lost).  I also watched the South African loss which will most likely eliminate them from the tourney but hopefully not dampen the enthusiasm from the locals.

Where do I start in recapping the game? 

I guess you have to hand it to Switzerland for winning the game.  In the end, they did what Spain failed to do…score.

It was actually a very exciting game to watch, with end-to-end action, especially down the stretch as Spain pushed to equalize and the Swiss held on and tried to counter when the situation allowed.

A quick look at the official game statistics and some of the usual measuring sticks in performance all went Spain’s way, except one.

Shots – Spain 24, Switzerland 6

Shots on goal – Spain 8, Switzerland 3

Corner kicks –  Spain 12, Switzerland 3

Fouls – Spain 8, Switzerland 21

Ball possession – Spain 63 percent; Switzerland 37 percent.

The only stat which counts – Goals scored:  Spain 0, Switzerland 1

Although Spain wasn’t at its best, there were moments when their possession was brilliant.  It really was nice to watch.  The problem was they weren’t sharp in the finishing third.  Crosses were off, balls were served at the wrong time and that combined with Switzerland’s resilience made it difficult.
Spain still created chances to tie and even win the game, but you could almost see it wasn’t their day as the game developed.  In comparison with the German game, the Spanish possession was much sharper than the German possession until the final third.  And, while the Germans created top chances and were clinical with their finishing, the Spanish team created half-chances which failed to materialize.

The Swiss on the other hand, defended quite well.  They stayed organized and compact and made it difficult for Spain to find the killer goal-scoring pass.  Spain could have been better with set pieces, especially with 12 corner kicks, few of which caused much damage.  Credit the Swiss for defending the set pieces well, as well as making Spain work for everything they got in the 1v1 duals.  Often the Spanish players, especially Iniesta, got past their defender only to find another player shifting to cover or the person who got beat recovering.

In the postgame press conference, Hitzfeld, the Swiss coach, was proud of his team, but clearly acknowledged (he didn’t apologize) Spain’s dominance and his teams good fortune to hang in there.  As the game wore on they gained confidence.  The player of the game, Gelson Fernandes, who scored the goal, also mentioned Spain’s class.

I just returned to my hotel and there were 4-5 Swiss fans in the bar and they were proud, but almost apologetic.  They called it a historic win and felt like they might have knocked off the eventual World Champions.  If these teams played 10 times, you got the feeling in the stadium that Spain would win 8-9. 

Today was Switzerland’s day…

So, Spain has their back against the wall which means we will see their very best.  Tonight was a bit strange.  I felt like with the dominance in possession, it was only a matter of time.  That time never came. 

Everyone in the stadium left scratching their heads.  How could Spain lose?  That is both the beauty and downfall of the game.  The team which dominates doesn’t always win, and without shortchanging the Swiss, Spain dominated.  The Swiss coach and goal-scorer said this and their fans in the hotel did too.

The atmosphere was electric…

Both teams brought a large cheering section and the South Africans brought their vuvuzelas.  My ears are still ringing.  The guy seated next to me said the sound is just a touch below a gunshot.  Spain had a few drummers who were trying to get chants going and it was tough competing with the vuvu’s. 

I had a great seat, thanks to Keith Bruce, the president of SportsMark.  We connected before the game and he is making his way around to most of the venues to check in with clients and games.

I sat next to a former South African World Cup player, George Koumantarakis, who played in 2002.  He also played for FC Basel in Switzerland and many of the players came to acknowledge him before and after the game.  He was wearing ear plugs from the vuvu noise…I probably should have been.  While I was predicting a Spanish win, he believed it was not their day.  Sadly, he was right.

A few World Cup stats, courtesy of FIFA, which they handed out in the postgame press conference.

 The goal per game average of the World Cups since 1982:

1982 – 2.81

1986 – 2.54

1990 – 2.21

1994 – 2.71

1998 – 2.67

2002 – 2.52

2006 – 2.30

2010 thus far 1.64

Why the low tally?

Are teams playing more defensively now? – yes, it is easier to negate than create and few teams have the quality to play attractive, attacking soccer (and win).  The result, many try to get the defensive side right first and would prefer to win 1-0 than 3-2.

Is the ball harder to control? Spain’s passing didn’t leave me to believe it was.  Their finishing, well…it’s worth researching.

Over the next few days, I will try to get some opinions from South Africa and report back to you.

The tournament is heating up!