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World Cup: Swiss Make Melted Cheese out of Spain

Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the World Cup group H soccer match between Spain and Switzerland at the stadium in Durban, South Africa, Wednesday, June 16, 2010. AP

Spain isn't supposed to lose to Switzerland.

Spain has never lost to Switzerland.

Perhaps Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas believed that would last forever just a little too much.

In a 1-0 loss, it was his peculiarly complacent misjudgment that heaped the pressure of a billion expectations on a team that, for many, was the pre-tournament favorite.

Special Section: 2010 World Cup

In the face of what seemed like the first Swiss attack of the game, after 51 minutes, Casillas came out to thwart an oncoming forward.

Instead of placing his body squarely in the path of the ball, he decided that he could tackle him like a center-back.

He merely offered his feet as a last line of defense as if he would clip the ball and the crowd would shout "ole."

Instead, he committed a foul. Yet the ball bounced onward.

Gelson Fernandes, the Swiss striker born in the Cape Verde Islands, managed to bundle it into an empty net, while Casillas, mindless of his initial error, tried to tackle with his feet again.

Though Spain had pressed for most of the first half, the Swiss, marshaled by uncompromising German coach, Otmar Hitzfeld, almost gleefully soaked up the pressure.

After the goal, Spain raged forward like a schoolboy maligned.

When things happen that aren't supposed to happen, one's first reaction is fury.

In the 62nd minute, the reaction of many viewers around the world was "What has happened to Fernando Torres' hair?"

The Liverpool striker, who has been struggling with injury, was thrown on in an attempt to help the world spin back onto its correct axis.

Yet the long, blond locks for which he is known, were nowhere to be seen.

Instead, here was this short, mousy cut that didn't even require his trademark headband. It was as if the Spanish Samson had removed his wig just to shock the world.

In the end, it was the whole team that was exposed.

While Xavi and Xabi Alonso prodded and poked the Spanish to create some kind of unmissable chance, the Swiss stood impassive, neutral to all the huffing and puffing.

The closest Spain came to scoring was an utterly venomous strike from outside the box by Xabi Alonso. It hammered at the crossbar to such an extent that the crossbar is probably now being fed valium.

Strangely, the best chance of the last 30 minutes still fell to Switzerland.

Derdiyok turned beautifully and had every opportunity to slide the ball past Casillas.

Instead, he rolled it lamely at the post, as Casillas stared haplessly, perhaps not knowing which parts of his body he should use any more.

With such a stunning defeat, Spain isn't out of contention. But its claim to supremacy must seem like pretension.

These things do happen in major tournaments. Anyone who saw how Italy played in the early rounds of the 2006 World Cup finals knows that.

Yet the manner in which the Spanish seemed to panic in the face of adversity doesn't bode well for Spanish hearts.

In their remaining two games they must face Chile and Honduras, two teams with which they will not be so familiar.

Chile committed everything to attack in defeating Honduras 1-0 Wednesday.

Spain committed everything to attack too, yet however many famous players you might have, you still have to ensure that you can defend the occasional fast break.

This is something Barcelona knows to its cost, and the two Barcelona central defenders in the Spanish team, Puyol and Pique, were not exactly glorious in the way they defended the occasional Swiss forays into Spanish territory.

Fame doesn't secure you points. Putting your body in the way of the occasional opposing attacker does.

Every goalkeeper knows that one mistake can turn the whole game. Every goalkeeper knows he is one step from ridicule, two steps from a nervous breakdown.

Iker Casillas will not sleep tonight. Neither will the rest of Spain.


Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing, and an avid sports fan. He is also the author of the popular CNET blog Technically Incorrect.

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