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Del Bosque may go 4-6-0 to hide chinks in side's armour

ONE team facing accusations that its golden era is over, its trademark passing style is being overtaken and its major players are reaching their sell-by date.

The fitness of Diego Costa is a problem for Spain's head coach, Vicente Del Bosque. Picture: Getty Images
The fitness of Diego Costa is a problem for Spain's head coach, Vicente Del Bosque. Picture: Getty Images

The other being told it is too inexperienced, too negative and moving far too far away from the 'Total Football' philosophy that marked its arrival as an international force in the 1970s.

The contrasts between Spain and Holland are clear, but they do share one common bond ahead of what should be an intriguing and most informative Group B encounter in Salvador tonight. They both have questions to answer.

To many observers, talk of Spain's demise has been exaggerated. After all, it is only a matter of weeks since two clubs from their Primera Division contested the Champions League final and one look through their squad list still brings pangs of envy. They should be in the shake-up come the end of this month-long jamboree.

There are chinks in the armour, though, as they bid to win an incredible fourth major tournament in succession.

The 3-0 loss to Brazil in last year's Confederations Cup final in the Maracana, ending a run of 29 fixtures unbeaten, brought a sobering degree of introspection. They were overpowered, with their possession-based strategy made to look wholly ineffective.

Hard on the heels of Barcelona - providers of more players than any other side for the national squad - being hammered 7-0 on aggregate by a rampant Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the Champions League, it sparked debate on whether the dominant period of 'tiki-taka' and its derivatives was winding to an end.

Spain's coach, Vicente del Bosque, is certainly fancied to approach this tournament with a beefed-up midfield containing both Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso in front of the defence. Spanish sides don't score a lot of goals, but they certainly don't let many in. They lost just six in 19 games across Euro 2008, South Africa 2010 and Euro 2012 and none of those were in the knockout stages.

"We might see del Bosque switching to 4-6-0 again," said Spain and Real Madrid icon Raul.

"In the absence of [Carles] Puyol, the defence will be weaker. The fitness of Diego Costa will also be a big concern for the manager."

Fernando Torres remains in the squad while David Villa has never really been fancied as a centre forward for Spain and is going out to pasture after the tournament thanks to agreeing a move from Atletico to the newly-formed New York City FC.

Spain will persevere with their firm belief in how the game should be played during this World Cup with the 34-year-old Xavi Hernandez at the heart of it alongside Andres Iniesta.

Certainly, tonight's match is shaping up to be a jarring clash of styles. Holland's star player Arjen Robben has already stated "we are not in a position to play tiki-taka" and head coach Louis van Gaal looks likely to start with five defenders and a strict policy of hitting on the counter-attack.

This Holland side is not about to bring back memories of Cruyff and Neeskens. It is more likely to have us reliving the moment Nigel de Jong booted Xabi Alonso in the chest during the kickfest that was the 2010 World Cup final.

We are hardly dealing with a team full of household names with the 2014 version of the Oranje either.

If their friendly win over Ghana can be taken as a guide, their back five will consist of Feyenoord trio Daryl Janmaat, Stefan De Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi with Aston Villa's Ron Vlaar and Daley Blind, of Ajax. With the impressive Kevin Strootman, of Roma, out because of knee surgery, 22-year-old Jordy Clasie, of Feyenoord, is widely fancied to be given the job of shoring up midfield beside de Jong.

These sides may have contested the last World Cup final four years ago, but the Dutch, likely to face a strong challenge to qualify from an exciting Chile side, appear uncommonly humble when discussing their ambitions.

"Revenge is spoken about in Holland, but you cannot compare this game to that final," said 70-times capped former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.

"We are in a time of transition with young players who have never reached this level before. Many do not even have the experience of the Champions League.

"If we can get a draw, it would be fantastic, because Spain is the clear favourite."

This might not be a classic, but it should be fascinating from the off.

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