Despite three thoroughly unconvincing performances in Group B, Spain were still expected to qualify for the last-16 and managed just that with a 2-2 draw against Morocco, somehow qualifying in first place.
A draw between Iran and Portugal in Group B’s other fixture ensured that Iago Aspas’ last-minute equaliser – aided by VAR – sent La Furia Roja through in first, having scored more goals than Portugal.
Spain demonstrated their defensive frailty once more as Khalid Boutaib capitalised on miscommunication between Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos to convert a one-on-one with David de Gea, whilst Youssef En-Nesyri looked to have won the game for the Lions of the Atlas with a thunderous header from a corner.
However, Spain found a reply on both occasions, the first a typically Spanish passing move, engineered by Iniesta and finished by Isco within the six-yard box, whilst Aspas’ stoppage time second was awarded by VAR after suspicions of offside.
Here are five things we learned from another inadequate Spanish performance.
1 Defensive wobbles
Andres Iniesta couldn't have epitomised the two sides of Spain more aptly if he tried.
On the one hand, they're a beautiful side to watch and the 36-year-old demonstrated just that with his brilliant one-two with Diego Costa and cutback for Isco's goal.
The other side of the coin, however, represents miscommunication and poor concentration, with Boutaib capitalising on Iniesta's poor pass to race through on goal and net past David de Gea.
De Gea himself is problematic, seemingly saving all the poor performances he was due over the past few seasons for this one tournament. He's a shade of the goalkeeper we've become accustomed to, and it's a testament to his form that he's yet to make a save at the World Cup.
A defence riddled with insecurity, vulnerability to pressure, it's no benefit that Pique and Ramos are afforded little protection from the advanced positions of the fullbacks and Sergio Busquets's lack of defensive cover.
Teams with quality will take advantage of this, and it's no surprise that they've shipped five to Portugal and Morocco.
2 Hierro's management is lacking
Part of the reason behind Spain's defensive issues is their 'manager' Fernando Hierro. Taking over from Julen Lopetegui, Hierro's arrival has seemingly caused disorganisation amongst his squad, perhaps due to a lack of clarity in his instructions.
Irrespective of their quality, a squad can't simply manage itself. They need their manager to assert his authority on certain matters.
It's arguably down to the fact that Hierro himself doesn't trust his own authority. The starting XI picks itself, but Hierro seems unsure of his sub substitutions, perhaps lacking the confidence in himself to make a change that could result in a negative impact.
He made three changes against Morocco, but none came before the 70th minute, continuing a theme during the Spanish campaign, whilst Iniesta, who was clearly struggling, finished the full 90 minutes.
Hierro needs to stamp some authority onto this group ahead of the knockouts.
3 Did Nordin Amrabat just have a breakout tournament?
At 31 years of age, no one expected Nordin Amrabat to be one of the breakout players of this World Cup and yet here we are.
The Watford player, who was loaned out to Leganes last season, has put in a series of good performances throughout the group stages for Morocco in a group in which a case could be made that his side were the best team.
Picking up a head injury in the match against Iran, Amrabat became something of a meme when the Moroccan team doctor’s concussion test seemed to consist of slapping him around the face. In the event, though, this seemed to spur the wide forward on, harrying opposition full-backs and working the ball into dangerous areas.
With his team only scoring twice – against Spain – the stats do not look favourable for Amrabat.
However, the industry and guile may have made a few managers sit up and take notice so don’t be surprised to see the former PSV player return to the Premier League next season.
4 The curious case of Diego Costa
You can't get a more un-Spanish player than Diego Costa. Not the fancy false nine of David Villa or Cesc Fabregas on occasion, but a brute of a striker that thrives in close quarter combat because of his strength.
A consistently excellent striker, Costa isn't the mould the Spanish are perhaps looking for. He won't necessarily drop deep to link-up play and it's clear that he seems disjointed from the rest of the team.
This is because Costa is just a fundamentally different player to the style of football Spain preach, but that's not a reason to not use him.
When passing fails to unpick a defensive lock, lump the ball up to Costa and he'll hold it up and bring others into play or get a shot away, as he did against Portugal, beating Pepe and Jose Fonte in the first place. Get crosses into him to attack, too, as Spain failed to do against Iran despite having a lot of promising possession down the left flank.
Costa and Spain are a marriage of inconvenience. Friends with benefits if you like. Sometimes it's awkward and it doesn't seem to work, but there's certain advantages to be taken.
5 Is Renard heading for another AFCON triumph?
Whilst it would be unfair to accuse Herve Renard of being a one-trick pony, his particular trick is not to be sniffed at: the Frenchman has won the Africa Cup of Nations with two sides in his managerial career and will be hoping to add to that tally in 2019.
The first of these AFCON victories came back in 2012; Renard carrying Zambia to the title for the first time in the history of the team.
When he then moved to the Ivory Coast, the expectations were raised significantly. This did not hold Renard back and Les Elephantes made short shrift of the competition in 2015.
Now at Morocco after a disappointing stint at Lille, Renard has created an impressive outfit heading into next year’s AFCON. By the time the final rolls around, don’t be surprised to see Renard on the sidelines.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 13 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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