Saturday, June 14, 2014

Spain mourns World Cup 'catastrophe'

Spanish newspapers on Saturday bemoaned the "humiliation" and "catastrophe" of world champions Spain's 5-1 battering by the Netherlands in their opening World Cup match in Brazil.

Most splashed on their front pages photos of Spain's goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas kneeling with head bowed as Dutch players celebrated after ripping apart the Spanish defence.

The image summed up a tale of fallen heros in a team shouldering huge expectations as it defends its world title.

Leading Madrid sports daily Marca mourned "a historic catastrophe", dubbing the Netherlands' performance "a goal-scoring spree of Biblical proportions".

Cafe terraces across Madrid erupted with joy when Spain went 1-0 up through a contentious 27th minute penalty by Xabi Alonso on Friday night.

But they fell silent when Robin van Persie struck back just before half time with a stunning header that looped over Casillas into the net.

The mood darkened as the Dutch added four more goals in the second half and the capital was quiet as fans in their red shirts plodded home.

With two Euro championships plus the 2010 World Cup under their belt, expectations for Spain in this competition could not be higher and the response to Friday night's upset was bitter.

It left fans and press alike mourning the decline of Casillas and demanding changes for the next match, against Chile on Wednesday.

"This is not just any old defeat. It is a historic disaster. There is no precedent of this scale in the history of the World Cup," Marca wrote.

"Humiliation", ran a headline on the front page of general daily El Mundo. "World disaster," said leading newspaper El Pais.

Leading general newspaper El Pais noted on its front page that Spain had not let in more than one goal in a World Cup or European championship match since 2008. On Friday's "the collapse was total, it was hell", it wrote.

"A ridiculous start," screamed Barcelona-based daily Sport on its front page, calling the match Spain's "worst nightmare".

Barcelona general newspaper El Periodico saw the defending world champions, known as La Roja or the Reds, as "Red with shame".

Madrid sports daily AS mourned a "Total breakdown" by Spain in the second half as they gave away their lead.

Spanish papers noted bitterly that the scoreline -- two goals each by Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie and one by Stefan de Vrij -- was sweet revenge for the Dutch for their 1-0 defeat by Spain in the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa.

The Spanish press's only source of consolation was pointing out that Spain lost its first game in that World Cup, to Switzerland.

Many commentators mourned the ineffective performances of past heros of the Spain squad, such as Casillas, defenders Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique and midfielders Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Xavi Hernandez.

Some thought the defeat marked the end of an era for the world and European champions.

"Spain is like the remains of an empire that knows it is near its end," wrote commentator Joan Maria Batlle in Sport.

"Casillas was unrecognisable. Pique and Sergio Ramos were uncoordinated, as if they had never played together," while Iniesta and Xavi dropped out of sight in the second half, Batlle wrote.

The online editions of the sporting press on Saturday were a gallery of Spain's glum-faced fallen heros. Marca's led with Casillas's post-match apology to fans.

He was the first Spain goalkeeper to let in five goals since 1963 when Scotland beat them 6-2 in a friendly.

AS said that fans consulted in a survey online "want to get Pique, Busquets and Xavi Hernandez out of the team and have great doubts about Casillas and Diego Costa" -- a new face in the squad this year.

Instead they want midfielders Javi Martinez, Koke and Pedro Rodriguez, it said.

If Spain wants to extend its winning streak after the 2010 World Cup crown and the past two Euro championships, coach Vicente del Bosque "will have to seek urgent solutions", Marca warned.

"The hardest job will be in maintaining team spirit." "It is time to think quickly, draw firm conclusions and make logical changes in the next starting line-up to get back into this World Cup," wrote Lobo Carrasco in Barcelona sports paper Mundo Deportivo.

"Winning it seems is almost impossible, but it all depends on beating Chile."

Chile opened with a 3-1 win over Australia on Friday.


Miami out of options in NBA Finals?

Another game, another Spurs win. San Antonio routed the Miami Heat again in Game 4, logging another win of 19 or more points on the court that created so many demons for it last season. Is this NBA Finals all but over? 5-on-5 weighs in.

1. Are the Spurs really this much better than the Heat?

Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: In a sense, yes! Think about it like this: Miami has one of the highest basketball IQs in the league, and for much of the season its offense has whipped the ball around with the same speed and efficiency the Spurs have in this series. Yet San Antonio has taken all that away and reduced the Heat to a poor man's Oklahoma City.

Israel Gutierrez, They are now, yes. There was a time when Miami could ramp up the defense and the Spurs would play out of character. That time wasn't too long ago, either. Just watch the end of Game 2, when Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili tried to win it at the end and failed. Now, with the Spurs playing like their usual selves, it's quite obvious the Heat's defense can't hang, and the offense isn't good enough to keep up.

Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: No. But what we've seen in this series outside of Game 2 has confirmed what I thought entering it -- that San Antonio is clearly the superior team and the difference was masked to some extent by a much more difficult path to the Finals.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Not this much better, but better indeed. The Spurs showed their balance Thursday with the kind of crushing defensive performance the Heat can rarely muster. The focus on whether they can sign Carmelo Anthony distracts from how their defense has been lacking this season.

Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Yes. Sometimes you just have to examine the evidence at hand and trust what your eyes and the scoreboard are telling you. This series isn't about what's wrong with Miami, the two-time defending champ. It's about what has gone extremely well for San Antonio. Tony Parker was asked after Game 4 whether he was surprised how superb his team is playing. He countered by saying: It's simply Spurs basketball.

2. What's the biggest issue for the Heat?

Elhassan: Lack of depth and athleticism. The well has gone dry for Miami: The rejuvenated Dwyane Wade we saw in earlier playoff rounds might as well be a sepia-toned newsreel on display at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; Birdman (Chris Andersen) has been grounded; the point guard play has been, in a word, "turrible." Outside of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, this just isn't a gifted roster.


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Gutierrez: The defense they normally rely upon is failing them. And frankly, it shouldn't have been a surprise. For the postseason, the Heat have allowed an effective field goal percentage of 53.9 percent, which is consistent with the defense they played all regular season. No team has won a title allowing an eFG of higher than 50 percent. The Heat would need to literally put a lid on the basket to get under 50 percent at this point.

Pelton: Erik Spoelstra doesn't have a single lineup he can trust right now. Until or unless Miami finds that combination, there's no chance of beating the Spurs.

Strauss: The aforementioned defense is a problem, especially with Andersen and Wade moving so slowly out there. The Heat didn't suddenly get old, but San Antonio's ball movement can suddenly reveal their age. They could make up for the defensive breakdowns if they had a rim protector, but they don't currently have one.

Wallace: Where, oh, where should we begin? LeBron James has been uncharacteristically sloppy and inconsistent at the start of games. Wade's impact has plummeted after peaking against Indiana. Bosh is too caught up in his lack of opportunities on offense, when it's the defensive end where the Heat could truly use his aggression. And the supporting cast is being destroyed by the Spurs' role players. It's an equal-opportunity meltdown for Miami right now.

3. Would having Carmelo on the Heat right now make a difference?

Elhassan: It would give them a shot in the arm for the offense and allow James to focus on other areas. But it wouldn't have solved the massive defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Heat in the past two games.

Gutierrez: Of course he would. I mean, he's more than a little bit better than Rashard Lewis. Obviously Melo wouldn't have made up for all of the Heat's defensive deficiencies, but the offense he can provide would've allowed Miami to compete.

Pelton: He'd make a difference because Miami simply needs good, reliable players right now. Anthony would provide the consistent scoring that Wade could not in Game 4. He wouldn't make the difference, though, because the gap between the teams has been so large.

Strauss: Not at all. The Heat are getting absolutely crushed on defense, and Carmelo isn't a good defensive player. They'd certainly be a better team if he were taking, say, Lewis' minutes, but not good enough to close this gap.

Wallace: C'mon, man. When you have LeBron, Wade and Bosh on your roster, you don't get to play the "what if we had …" game. It's a shame how the possibility of Carmelo joining Miami has overshadowed, in some instances, what's actually happening between the Heat and Spurs. Who would have figured Carmelo would ever have this type of impact on an NBA Finals? But just for the sake of debate, the Heat would still struggle to defend and still wouldn't get anything meaningful from the bench.

4. Who's the MVP of the series so far?

Elhassan: From Game 1, when he posted what I called the most dominant two-point performance in Finals history, Boris Diaw has changed the complexion of the game with every minute he has played. His IQ, passing, size advantage and passing (that's right, I listed it twice) have shredded the Heat, who have struggled to find an option to throw on him. He has blown the series wide open.

Gutierrez: Tim Duncan. Kawhi Leonard could lock it up with another stellar game in San Antonio, especially because all eyes are on the Leonard-James matchup. But Duncan is what makes the interior defense so effective for San Antonio. Even his little plays, such as tipped rebounds over Bosh or Andersen, have been huge.

Pelton: Boris Diaw. LeBron James has actually been the most valuable player, but we don't give the MVP to players on losing teams anymore -- especially in a series this lopsided. Because voters can't pick the whole team, why not reward Diaw for his difference-making role? The Spurs have outscored the Heat by 60 points with him on the floor.

Strauss: It's Kawhi Leonard, who has been incredible these past two games. He's also the most irreplaceable of Spurs. If Parker goes down, they have Patty Mills. If Duncan falls, they have Tiago Splitter. If Kawhi gets hurt? There just isn't a passable alternative.

Wallace: Old Man Riverwalk. Duncan stoically said the Spurs were going to "do it this time" and beat the Heat after last year's collapse in Game 6. So far, he has been prophetic. Duncan's leadership and determination have set the tone for this series. His 15.8 points and 10.5 rebounds a game support his case. Parker, Leonard and Diaw can all still make a late run for it.

5. What are the chances LeBron has played his last home game in Miami?

Elhassan: 0.1 percent chance. I can't see LeBron leaving the best owner in the league, one of the shrewdest executives in the league, one of the best young coaches in the league, and, oh yeah, South Beach for … I mean, that's the point. If he were to leave, where would he go?

Gutierrez: Pretty poor. LeBron's not the only one who recognizes this team needs a personnel shakeup. Pat Riley sees it. Erik Spoelstra sees it. And at the very least, LeBron likely will give Riley a chance to improve this group next season. That would mean he opts into his contract rather than test free agency. But I'd say it's better than a 50 percent chance he'll return.

Pelton: 5 percent? Even if James isn't convinced that Miami is the right place for him long term, it makes more sense for him to delay opting out until 2015, when there will be more legitimate suitors for his services than this summer.

Strauss: I give a Miami exit about a 5 percent chance of happening. There aren't good alternative options, and it's one of the best places to live. The upside of this drubbing is it forces the Heat to confront what they need to change going forward.

Wallace: I repeat: C'mon, man. Which one is it? Is Carmelo coming to Miami or is LeBron leaving? I'm starting to get confused. I'd be stunned if Game 4 were LeBron's swan song in Miami. I think he's 97 percent likely to stay. But if he leaves, then you thank the man for bringing his talents to South Beach for a four-year administration that included four trips to the Finals and two titles.


Woodson: Noll in conversation as NFL's greatest coach

Chuck Noll passed away Friday at the age of 82, leaving in his wake a masterful football legacy. Rod Woodson was there for the end.

The Hall of Fame defensive back played five seasons under Noll, whose coaching run with the Steelers spanned from 1969 to 1991. Woodson remembers Noll as a leader who challenged him to win football's considerable mental battle while giving players a way to look at the game from different perspectives.

"He was a huge catalyst for teaching football life," Woodson said Friday on NFL Network. "He loved to read, he would take different scriptures from different literature that he would read and then he would apply it back to the team in some form or fashion to motivate us to win football games. He was an amazing man. I caught the tail-end of his career, and I just couldn't imagine what he was like when they were winning all the Super Bowls.

Woodson was asked if Noll -- who won an unprecedented four Super Bowls -- is in the conversation as the greatest coach in NFL history.

"Well, I think you definitely have to put him there," Woodson said. "Just the way he looked at the draft, the way he wanted to form his team, he was a catalyst of putting that team together, along with all the other ones in the front office for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"But when you talk about somebody who put his thumb print on a football team and they played their way, the Steeler way, it's Chuck Noll. Chuck Noll made it the Steeler way, and they've been playing that way ever since."


Dutch trouncing could herald end of an era

Spain's domination of world football, which has seen them win three trophies in the past six years, could be at an end after their hopes of retaining the World Cup took a huge knock when the Netherlands inflicted their worst defeat in 51 years.

Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben each scored twice as a rampant Netherlands humiliated Spain in a 5-1 trouncing in their opening group game, a rerun of the 2010 World Cup final. 

It was the heaviest defeat suffered by any defending champions at a finals and the Spanish press did not refrain from slamming a side they have had the habit of eulogising over for the past six years. 

"Spain is like the remains of an empire that knows it is near its end," mused a columnist in the Barcelona-based daily Sport. 

A jubilant van Persie, who scored one of the best goals seen at the World Cup, said it was one of greatest football nights for the Netherlands. 

Spanish goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas took the blame for what he called his worst night. 

Spain's hopes of rescuing their campaign and avoiding the fates of France in 2002 and Italy in 2010 in defending champions going out at the group stage, face a real challenge from highly-rated Chile. 

The South Americans joined the Dutch on three points after beating a stubborn Australia side 3-1. 

Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0 in Group A, but claimed they should have had two more on the scoresheet as referees' decisions again inflamed the World Cup debate. 

Van Persie made an incredible dive to send a looping header over Casillas to level the game just before half-time. 

"We didn't react well to van Persie's second goal -- they were euphoric and they hammered us," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque. 

"We did everything wrong in the second half, it was a debacle," added Spain's veteran midfielder Xavi. 

It was a personal humiliation for Casillas, 33, one of the stars of the team that won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and 2010 World Cup. 

"I have to ask forgiveness for the match we played in general and me in particular," he said. "I was not good enough." 

Even van Persie was shocked by the scale of the defeat. "It could have been five, oh, yeah, it was five, but it could have been six, seven or eight goals, in my opinion," the Manchester United star said. 

It was the "greatest" night for Dutch football, he added. The walloping of Spain eclipsed more refereeing controversies on the second day of competition. 

FIFA officials earlier defended Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura after he awarded Brazil a bitterly-contested penalty in their opening game victory over Croatia. 

Referees chief Massimo Busacca insisted Nishimura had been justified in awarding the spot-kick after an alleged foul by Dejan Lovren on Brazilian striker Fred. 

"He had a very good position," said Busacca, referring to a photo of the incident which appeared to show Lovren's hands making contact with Fred. 

"When he saw the hands doing something he makes it (the decision)." 

But no sooner had Busacca sprung to Nishimura's defence than officiating was again under scrutiny as Mexico took on Cameroon. 

Mexico's Oribe Peralta scored the only goal of a rain-lashed Group A game in Natal, securing a precious three points for Miguel Herrera's side. 

But the main talking point after the game was Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan, who chalked off what looked like two valid Mexico goals in the first half. 

"The referee has taken two goals off us but we go away with three points and in top spirits," Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said. 

In Friday's late game, Chile beat Australia 3-1 and ensured they will not be taken lightly by either Spain or the Dutch. 

Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia struck early in the first half before Australian veteran Tim Cahill led a stirring fightback from the Socceroos. 

Cahill scored with a majestic header to make it 2-1 but Jean Beausejour grabbed a third for Chile to make the game safe for the South Americans late on. 

Elsewhere Friday, the pitch in the Amazon city of Manaus due to host its first World Cup match when England play Italy on Saturday is not up to the required standard, according to world players union FIFPro. 

There are large dry areas on the pitch and some of it has been spray-painted green. 

In Saturday's other action, veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld's final campaign gets underway as his talented young Swiss side play Ecuador while Japan play Ivory Coast and Colombia, who will be watched from the stands by injured talismanic striker Radamel Falcao, play Greece.