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Manchester United goalkeeper De Gea and the Spanish World Cup inquisition

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Spain flopped at the 2018 World Cup and after the defeat against Russia in the round of 16, the press has been pointing accusing fingers of blame in every direction, looking at reasons why the national team didn’t progress further at the tournament. Practically none of the star players in the squad have escaped criticism, including Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, who was uncharacteristically below par and kept just one clean sheet.

One win, two draws and a humiliating exit on penalties. That’s the frustrating balance of a hugely disappointing 2018 World Cup for Spain, who were expected to perform at a much higher level given the vast array of stellar talent at their disposal. As the dust settles following their elimination from the tournament, against host nation Russia no less, there’s been a ‘Spanish Inquisition’ of sorts in the media.

Not even the hallowed ‘tiki-taka’ passing style for which the Spaniards are renowned, has evaded the microscopic level of critical analysis from journalists. Indeed, Madrid-based outlet Marca observed that La Roja made a total of 1,114 passes during the encounter with Russia, boasting a pass success rate of 90.31% and dominated control with 78.97% possession; but none of those statistics made the slightest difference in the end, as Spain were eliminated.

Following their victory in the penalty shoot-out, World Cup betting odds for Russia to win the 2018 tournament have been slashed to just 20/1, having managed to hold firm against the 2010 champions. As they prepare for a Quarter-final duel with Croatia and the genuine chance of reaching the Semi-finals, which was completely unexpected ahead of the tournament, Spain return home amidst the fallout of what is considered to have been a disastrous campaign.

Of course, it’s often easy to single out individuals for blame when a team fails to perform. After Spain were held to a thrilling 3-3 draw against Portugal in Group B, De Gea was under the spotlight for his monumental blunder in the opening goal, as a relatively straightforward shot from Cristiano Ronaldo squirted from his grasp. His positioning was also questioned for the third Portuguese goal, even though the free-kick by Cristiano was a world-class finish that few goalkeepers would have saved.

The overall numbers for De Gea’s performances at the World Cup aren’t too positive either. Despite heading into the tournament full of confidence, having won the 2018 Premier League Golden Glove award after keeping 18 clean sheets with Manchester United. However, according to Opta statistics, the 27-year-old made just one save during Spain’s four matches, leading to some media outlets in Spain calling for a change between the posts.

De Gea will no doubt be keen to put his World Cup experience behind him, but despite the harsh criticism, the truth is that his questionable level of performance was but a miniscule portion of why Spain failed to impress. Instead of adapting with changing times and players, the hallowed tiki-taka style has remained ‘non-negotiable’ since the 2010 triumph in South Africa. Many Spanish pundits believe it’s now time to move on and take a different approach.

Likewise, Spain hardly had the best preparation for the 2018 World Cup. Head coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked just three days before the opening match, following the public announcement of his appointment as Real Madrid boss. Spanish FA chief Luis Rubiales was involved in a clash of egos with Real Madrid supremo Florentino Perez, while Fernando Hierro was quickly appointed to pick up the pieces.

The players were said to have been stunned by what happened, so as Spain’s failures continue to be dissected over the coming days and weeks, don’t be surprised to see some high-profile names sharing their opinions from within. Every word will certainly be scrutinised and debated in the Spanish press, after the hopes of a nation were left in tatters.

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