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It’s too early to discount Spain, but there were some definite warning signs on Sunday

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In previewing Spain’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Italy, we noted that with the possible exception of Portugal at last year’s European Championships, no team had been able to go toe-to-toe with Spain and survive. Yes, Switzerland (World Cup 2010) and the United States (Confederations Cup 2009) had beat La Furia Roja in competitive matches, but they did so by employing a low-percentage approach that gave them the proverbial puncher’s chance. Like Holland in the 2010 World Cup final, they didn’t exactly play their game.

Yet in the span of four days, we’ve seen two teams stay true to themselves, stand flat-footed in front of the world champs, and survive. Other teams have done this in friendlies – Italy and France are two that come to mind – but Italy’s semifinal performance was the first time since Portugal we’ve seen a team truly trouble the Spaniards.

And then Sunday, Brazil not only troubled Vicente del Bosque’s side, they routed them. A goal in the second minute followed by a half of pressure led to a 2-0 lead by intermission. Scoring two minutes into the second half, Brazil couldn’t have made it look simpler. It was an unfathomably easy win over a team many consider to the best of all time.

Since there’s no way to know whether this was just an off day or the first cracks in the dam, it’s of little use to proclaim this is the end of the Spanish armada. It might be. Results as dramatic as these often hint at something bigger. But without the context of future matches, we can’t draw broad conclusions. All we can do is look at possibilities.

As it concerns their future dominance, the most concerning part of today’s performance was their midfield’s ineffectiveness. Yes, their defense was troublesome, but that’s never hindered them before. And although Iker Casillas was bad, Spain has a slew of other goalkeepers. But they don’t have another Xavi Hernandez. They don’t have another Andres Iniesta. If other teams can find ways to limit that duo’s effectiveness, be it through athleticism and physicality (like Brazil) or pure numbers (like Italy), Spain is in as much trouble as their doubters may proclaim. You don’t need super talent, only a particularly type of talent, to implement either of those approaches.

Compounding this possibility – and as this point, it’s nothing more than a distant possibility – is Spain’s unwillingness to develop another option. Jesus Navas’s wide play could be thought of as a significant change, but there was a time before Vicente del Bosque where Spain used to make better use of their forwards, be they David Villa, Daniel Guiza, or an in-form Fernando Torres. Now, with Spain rarely playing real wingers and seemingly accepting forward’s a synonym for black hole (they’re still starting Torres), there are no alternatives. They’ve imposed their own tactical limitations, making themselves a sitting duck.

It’s a testament to Spain’s talent that they haven’t been exploited before, exactly why predictions of their demise are so confounding. We can talk Xs and Os all day, but those are ultimately mere plans which make teams more or less likely to win. At some point, Iniesta can just better than his opponent. Same for Xavi. Same for any of the myriad of options del Bosque has at his disposal. Even if that doesn’t mean reintegrating a player like Fernando Llorente, Spain is more than capable of adjusting.

The question is whether they will. Their lack of adjustments over the last five years is both understandable and what’s led to this point of doubt. Is this a flaw in their DNA, something that can’t be changed without compromising what makes them Spain? Or will Spain evolve?

Or, is this result just a one-off? Spain is old. Their Barcelona and Real Madrid-heavy squad has played an unprecedented number of games (club and country) during Spain’s run, and unaccustomed to the Brazilian heat, La Roja may have wilted. Had they not played four games leading into the Brazil match, or if they had more preparation ahead of the games (as they will at next year’s World Cup), perhaps we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

We are, in fact, having this conversation, though. Brazil proved Spain was not only mortal but potentially vulnerable: exploitable. While it’s too early to know the extent to which Spain have faded, based on the lofty stature they held after their game against Uruguay, it’s fair to say they have faded. If only a little.

 

Pellegrini says announcing departure was mistake; Won’t jump into job

Manchester City's manager Manuel Pellegrini, right, and Bayern Munich's manager Pep Guardiola during the Champions League group D soccer match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Clint Hughes)
AP Photo/Clint Hughes
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Former Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini thought it was the right thing to do; His club was reportedly looking for his successor, so why not let them do it in the open.

[ MORE: Barcelona could chase Mata ]

What followed Pellegrini’s announcement that he would leave at the end of season were three straight losses and, arguably, City’s chances at a Premier League title.

From Sky Sports:

“After Guardiola said he was coming to England it was my decision [to go public] because all the media was talking about Guardiola here, Guardiola in Arsenal, Guardiola in Manchester United,” he told The Guardian.

“It was not fair for all managers – when everyone knew he was coming here. If I ask if I would do that again… I have some doubts.”

Pellegrini said the announcement didn’t make it difficult for him, but for his players.

The Argentine also said he’ll wait for an interesting job to come calling, and that he could be done managing forever if such an opportunity doesn’t present itself. That said, we think he’ll find a job that’s to his liking given this comment:

“Of course, I would miss it. The challenge keeps me alive.”

Life is a good motivator.

Will upsets continue in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round?

SANDY, UT - OCTOBER 1: The U.S. Soccer Championship trophy sits on display before the game between DC United and Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium October 1, 2013 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images
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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup hits the third round on Wednesday, with NASL teams entering the fray and at least one fourth-tier or lower side guaranteed to advance to face MLS competition.

The USASA had three teams win second round matches, and two will face each other on Wednesday. The L.A. Wolves knocked off the USL’s Orange County Blues, while L Maquina FC handed the NPSL’s Sacramento Gold an ouster. They will tangle for the right to a high-profile match-up with the L.A. Galaxy.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Gonzalez wins Liga MX with Pachuca ]

We’ll also see NASL vs. USL geographical rivalries when Carolina faces Charlotte and Rayo OKC meets Oklahoma City.

Wednesday’s third round matches
Chattanooga FC (NPSL) vs. Harrisburg City Islanders (USL)
Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) vs. Richmond Kickers (USL)
Jacksonville Armada (NASL) vs. Charleston Battery (USL)
New York Cosmos (NASL) vs. Jersey Express (PDL)
Carolina RailHawks (NASL) vs. Charlotte Independence (USL)
Miami FC (NASL) vs. Wilmington Hammerheads (USL)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) vs FC Cincinnati (USL)
Rochester Rhinos (USL) vs. Lansdowne Bhoys FC (USASA)
Indy Eleven (NASL) vs. Louisville City FC (USL)
Saint Louis FC (USL) vs. Minnesota United (NASL)
Rayo OKC (NASL) vs Oklahoma City Energy (USL)
Des Moines Menace (PD) vs. San Antonio FC (USL)
Arizona United (USL) vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks (USL)
La Maquina (USASA) vs. L.A. Wolves (USASA)
Kitsap Pumas (PDL) vs. Sacramento Republic (USL)

Iranian woman “sneaks” into Persian League match dressed as a man

Persepolis FC
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An Iranian woman wanted to see her favorite team play badly, but knew well the unspoken rule: no females at the stadium.

The Independent has the story of a woman who dressed in layers and filmed herself in case trouble came from her attendance.

[ MORE: Police free kidnapped Mexico striker ]

Persepolis FC is the name of the club, and they play in the Persian Gulf Pro League.

From The Independent:

There is no official ban on women attending sports events in Iran, but they are often refused entry so it is rare for women to attend.

In a third video, the woman explains that she layered five T-shirts and five pairs of trousers to hide her figure and covered her face with face paint.

I recognize that this is the norm over there, but it’s still a striking story.

Report: Barcelona ready to swoop if Mourinho deems Mata surplus at Manchester United

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - OCTOBER 01: Juan Mata (L) of Chelsea shakes hands with manager Jose Mourinho (R) after being substituted during the UEFA Champions League Group E Match between FC Steaua Bucuresti and Chelsea at the National Arena Stadium on October 1, 2013 in Bucharest, Romania.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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It’s a $40 million question for Manchester United: Will Juan Mata and Jose Mourinho work well together?

Their time at Chelsea was fractured when Mourinho deemed Mata surplus to requirement and shipped the Spaniard to Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Rashford signs new 4-year deal ]

Mata, 28, has been a consistent performer for United, but will his reunion with Mourinho be short-lived? It’s easy to imagine both as ready to move on and Barcelona could be an option if that happens.

Mundo Deportivo says Barcelona could make a bid of close to $40 million in order to help the midfield continue to tick. Mata was a key part of United’s possession-based approach under Louis Van Gaal, and as a player really does fit the bill of a Mourinho-minded mid.

We’re just hoping that if Mata moves, he doesn’t switch anywhere that would change his English language blog posts.