Spain Camp Focus - Search for excuses begins with the spotlight on Casillas and Carbonero
At first it seemed as though Sara Carbonero was speaking for a nation, but then angry fans spotted her behind Iker Casillas’ goal in one of the many replays of Switzerland midfielder Gelson Fernandes’ scrambled winner, and a Spanish inquisition started. Was the presence of Carbonero - Casillas’ girlfriend and ‘the sexiest journalist in the world’ according to the people who vote for these things - a distraction to the Spanish captain? Well, no. But it did not stop the conspiracy theories.
To make matters worse for Casillas, he would soon have to endure a squirming post-match interview with his other half, during which she forthrightly asked him “how did you muck that up?” For most couples such questions would be reserved for the minutiae of everyday life - taking the rubbish out, doing the washing up etc - but Casillas was being quizzed about just how he and Gerard Pique had contrived to allow Fernandes to score. “I don't know what to say,” was all that the contrite boyfriend could muster upon facing the music. “I don't know if this defeat will have consequences. The dressing room is fed up.” Fed up with the defeat, and no doubt already fed up of the inevitable WAGs debate - or “esposas y novias” debate as the Spanish would more elegantly call it - that Carbonero’s presence has provoked, despite the fact that she was only there to do her job anyway, working as a reporter for the Telecinco television channel. In truth, the whole blown up affair can largely be put down to the fact that there is still widespread disbelief in Spain over the result in Durban. Such a dismal defeat simply was not supposed to happen, not to this Spanish team. That old tag of ‘choking’ in World Cups was supposed to be blown away, and so there must be reasons.
While the public were focussing on one 25-year-old female TV presenter on the sidelines, the media were turning to the eleven men in Spanish shirts on the pitch, and one Englishman in black. “Spain played without conviction” said sports daily Marca, “Spain can no longer indulge the fantasy of choosing their last 16 opponent. Now it is merely an exercise in survival” it screamed, echoing the words of Euro 2008 winner Luis Aragones. AS chose to criticise referee Howard Webb, claiming: “He wasn't up to the circumstances. Didn't see the offside for the goal and should have given a penalty on David Silva in the second half” as they awarded him three out of 10 for the match. They did later cry “we can still do it!” but the sense of fatalism throughout the Spanish media was abound.
Both coach and players came in for a barrage of criticism for the defeat, simply because it was so unexpected, and so now the fight back must begin. “We need to take it step by step,” says Xabi Alonso, “without doubt the next game against Honduras is crucial because there is no margin for error. Afterwards we will think more about Chile. They did very well against Honduras and are a great team. We are expecting a difficult game. Honduras did not get a good result against Chile and therefore it is an important game. They are strong physically, with solid players at the back. And they will want to make things difficult for us.” The stick that has been coming their way has not affected them either, according to the midfielder. “We know how to live with criticism. It's on the pitch where we will win credit. The best way to do that is to have a good game against Honduras and win the match.”
Defiant words then, but, as senorita Carbonero would no doubt point out, words need to be backed up by actions, and unless Spain can produce the goods on the pitch against Honduras on Monday night, their World Cup campaign will be over before it has really begun. Fernando Torres will surely return, pepping up an attack that has been widely criticised in Spain for a failure to take their chances, and with him will surely come the promise of goals. His country expects him and teammates to deliver, and this time there will no excuses. Not even attractive, television presenting ones stood behind the goal.