Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

That was the general feeling amongst Spain’s national team members, as they were utterly destroyed by neighbours Portugal (4-0) – just two months after suffering a similar fate against Argentina (4-1). For their part, Portugal managed to quench their thirst by beating La Furia Roja in this Iberian derby and more importantly, gain some amount of revenge after Spain managed to knock them out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup last summer before picking up the trophy.

Suffering from post-victory depression is a common phenomenon for a team that has managed to tick every check-box on its task sheet. After conquering the football world with a Euro 2008 win and then repeating the trick at the 2010 World Cup, the only way for the Seleccion to proceed was downwards, but the team showed just why they are considered to be the best in the world by smoothly going through the motions of their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, running past sides such as Scotland, Liechtenstein, and Lithuania in the process.

This raises questions as to why Spain has suffered horrendous defeats at the hands of Argentina a couple of months ago, and against Portugal recently. With the team’s backbone of Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta, amongst others, excelling in Spain’s Primera Division, the results against the two aforementioned powerhouses raises legitimate concerns over the squad’s ability to compete from here on in.


While some may be quick to point out that a friendly is hardly considered as a criterion for assessment, it remains nonetheless the perfect mock-test for a team whose performances are constantly under the microscope. And during these big two tests, Spain flopped, and in style too.

Against Argentina, it is certainly true that Vicente del Bosque fielded a second-string side against the Biancoceleste, with key pillars such as Casillas, Ramos, and Puyol missing out. On that occasion, two early goals from Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain were enough to realistically end the game from the fifteenth minute.

Spanish voices argued that the Argentina match was a fluke, considering the way La Roja reacted in the 2012 European Championship qualifiers; but what about the loss against Portugal?

At the Estadio da Luz, Spain were taught a footballing lesson by a nation that always had the potential to be amongst the best in the world. That is not to say that Portugal reign supreme on top of the football pyramid, as their excellent display against Spain was more due to the fact that the current world champions were nowhere to be found on the night: Iker Casillas paid the price for a sloppy and horrendous backline, while Spain’s usual imperious midfield quintet found themselves chasing the game most of the time. Xabi Alonso played no jaw-dropping passes, Sergio Busquets was tormented by Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi’s leadership was absent, and unsurprisingly, David Villa was left to stand alone near the opposition’s box.

At the opposing end, the entire Seleccao was on show as Helder Postiga, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Martins made it a terrible evening for their opponents. Postiga’s presence was a nuisance for Puyol and Piqué while Ronaldo homeschooled his club team-mate Sergio Ramos on their corresponding flank. Portugal’s defence was brilliantly led by Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves, while the presence of duo Joao Moutinho and Pepe – a second-half substitute – was a nightmarish combination of break-and-build-up play from the Portuguese.

Speaking after 90 minutes, Del Bosque was crystal-clear over what concerned his team: “You cannot play any worse”, said the former Real Madrid coach, who went on to claim that his team needs to play with a little more intensity in low-stake matches: “We have not instilled the motivation for the players, and they have not played with the proper intensity. In the friendlies we need to play with more intensity.”

Pepe, on the other hand, was quick to point out the winning mentality that new coach Paulo Bento has brought to the team: “We went very well in the match, with intensity, and that is the key to making things go well. We have new players and a new coach and now we have a winning mentality that we did [not have] before. That’s the difference.”

As Portugal rejoice in their recent win, many things need to be said and done concerning the European and world champions. True, it was “only” a friendly, but even friendlies have a hidden plot behind the story. For Spain, the country will be hoping to make use of the lessons learned from their defeat, and ensure there is no repeat in matches where more than pride is on the line.