Spain at World Cup 2018: Hierro's boys living dangerously

Spain will need to up the tempo a bit to cement their status at this World Cup

Spain at World Cup 2018: Hierro's boys living dangerously Spain's defender Sergio Ramos (centre) and teammates celebrate their victory over Iran | AFP

Losing their manager two days before their World Cup opener was a disaster for Spain, whose chances of reclaiming the title went plummeting after that. Julen Lopetegui's two years of hard work ended with his sacking before he could see the fruit of his labour. A costly decision, but considering the team's unconvincing start to the tournament, the team is showing signs of the mistakes made in 2014.

Spain went on to play their first game, a crucial one against Portugal in Sochi, and a pulsating game ensued. In the six-goal thriller, Spain was clearly the better side, but they were up against the unstoppable Cristiano Ronaldo. All three goals that Spain let in were down to defensive errors, as Ronaldo scored off two set pieces and one with a little help from Spain's keeper.

Then, they were made to toil against Iran. For most of the game, it seemed like deja vu for a tiki-taka team. Iran played what some would call the game killer—others would call parking the bus—when seven players could be seen at a time forming a line in the box as Spain probed for the opening goal.

The opening goal came eventually, though in scrappy fashion off Diego Costa's shin. Iran even thought they had equalised, though VAR came to Spain's rescue and the goal was ruled out. Had Iran scored legitimately or VAR failed to spot yet another error, Spain would have struggled all the way to the final whistle.

Against Iran, Spain had 78 per cent possession and 90 per cent pass success rate, but Costa, Spain's man up front, was able to get only two shots away, one of which was his goal. Against Portugal, silly errors by Nacho and Gerard Pique to foul Ronaldo in and around the box resulted in his two set-piece goals, for which De Gea cannot be blamed.

Spain's slow passing and failure to deal with counter attacks were what led to the team's downfall in 2014. Yet again, it seems to be the inability to penetrate defensive walls that choked the team, and is clearly going to be a factor in the games to come. Despite several strong performances before the Cup began, Spain still fail to thwart counter attacks effectively.

Luckily for them, Costa has been much more clinical this time around with three goals in five chances. He came into the tournament on the back of a mediocre season with Atletico Madrid, unlike the last time when he was one of the most feared strikers in the world. But his presence in the box has been commanding.

Spain's failure to press and dispossess opponents, when they don't have the ball, was also one of the reasons that the side under-performed last time. While Isco has come good in attack, the slow movement of the midfielders and failure to finish off moves is keeping the side from distancing themselves from their opponents.

Goalkeeping errors came to haunt the side once again. De Gea let in a howler for Ronaldo's second of the game, irking memories of Casillas's horror show against the Netherlands. Both goalkeepers were/are the best in their respective times, and made mistakes they usually wouldn't.

Although it is unlikely, Spain can still be eliminated, if they lose to Morocco in their final game, and Iran get the better of Portugal. The Moroccans are out of the tournament after losing a hard-fought game to Portugal.

Both Ronaldo and his coach admitted that they were surprised by the way Morocco played. If Spain are to overcome a team that is looking to go out with their heads held high, they will need to up the tempo a bit.