Washington, DC, Saturday---The Spanish National Football Team, in town to dispute its final World Cup 2014 tune up, defeated a determined El Salvador 2-0 at FedEx Field.
The teams lined up thus: Spain, Iker Casillas, Juanfran Torres, Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Javi Martinez, Koke, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro Rodriguez, and Diego Costa; El Salvador, Henry Hernandez, Jonathan Barrios, Alexander Mendoza, Xavier Garcia, Alexander Larkin, Arturo Alvarez, Darwin Ceren, Richard Menjivar, Keven Santamaria, Rafael Burgos, Andres Flores.
The game began with a penalty for Spain at the third minute. The foul was a questionable call against Hernandez for a trip on Costa, following a breakaway. Fabregas took it and found the upper deck with his errant shot.
For the first half hour of the game the action was exclusively on the Salvadorean side of the pitch with three or four forays on the Spanish side. Costa and Ramos had good shots on goal that Hernandez handled well. Casillas was seen doing windmill warm ups at times to keep himself active as the ball spent long spells without crossing over to his side of the field.
Though possession was clearly with the champions they were not crisp and only rarely showed the sparks of brilliance most expected to witness. Nevertheless, they were in such confident control that one never had the feeling the game had any other but a preordained conclusion.
The first half ended with a flurry of Spanish attacks that none the less bore no fruit.
A fan made it onto the field as the players were headed for the tunnel and managed to get all the way to where Casillas was walking off and gave goalkeeper a hug. The slow reacting security arrived in time to untangle the hug and escort the fan off the field.
The second half began with the knowledge that Spain had completed 400 passes with an 86% accuracy rate, to El Salvador’s 86 passes with 58% accuracy. The possession had been 77% in favor of Spain with 11 attempts on goal to their opponent’s single attempt.
David Silva, Santi Cazorla, and David Villa came in for Fabregas, Pedro and Iniesta. The pace picked up and Hernandez was called upon to make several saves off of crosses, shots and one close in opportunity missed by Koke.
At the 60th minute, a long left to right cross from Xabi found Ramos on the far end of the box and as Hernandez belatedly reached him the defender headed toward the empty goalkeeper’s box where Villa scored with a header into the empty net.
With Xavi Hernandez now in the game now the number of incisive moves, many begun by his pin-point passing, double the scoring chances in a matter of minutes.
At the 87th a long Silva pass found Villa cutting into the box and in a single move he chested down to his right and away from his marker and then guided the ball into the left lower corner of the net. That was his 57th goal with the national side and goes a long way toward convincing del Bosque on who should be the starting striker for Spain. The whistle blew on time and the teams embraced at midfield while the crowd applauded until the teams left the pitch.
The takeaways today were predictable. Spain is ready to defend their title and the smoothness and cohesiveness that was expected of them materialized for long second half stretches that could have made for a lopsided score. For El Salvador, the game was not a throwaway. They kept up for the better part of half the game and given the chasm between the teams in terms of talent that was no mean feat.