We're not without reasons to see our glass as half full. Spain have topped a group also containing Portugal, the reigning European champions. Given the way results have gone and are expected to go, that leaves us likely to face a path towards a hypothetical final that will be shorn of sides seen as the world's best, teams representing countries that have won the World Cup once, twice or on a few occasions. For a start, we've avoided Uruguay and been handed a tie with Russia. That they are the hosts is a factor that makes our task tougher but, really and truly, that's where the significant hardships posed by a meeting with the Russians start and end. On the other side of the knockout-stage draw, it's looking like England and Brazil will join France and Portugal. And Argentina, who squeaked through with a late goal.
There's cause for optimism, but there's also plenty to be worried about
That has led Spain to be installed as the bookies' favourites: the side offering punters the lowest return if they lift the World Cup. So, as I say, there is some justification for optimism. And yet: all of us who have watched Spain's games closely and with growing concern, and wouldn't even bet the price of a postage stamp on them winning the trophy, can find ample cause to see our glass as half empty. They're a team who've got worse as the World Cup has unfolded, with a less-than-unbeatable goalkeeper who, as the journalist David Gistau so aptly put it, just gawks at the balls as they go by like a bird-watcher taking in a species of particular interest. What's more, the two centre-backs are suffering an acute attack of self-satisfaction, Andrés Iniesta seems to have fewer gears to go through and David Silva is unrecognisable.
When it comes to Spain, De Gea isn't even my chief concern anymore...
My main concern is no longer David de Gea. In the week he's got to think about it, I reckon Fernando Hierro will summon up the strength to drop him, be it for Pepe Reina (if indeed he's gone to Russia with any intention of playing) or Kepa Arrizabalaga, who could just become 2018's Antoni Ramallets. No, my chief worry is that tiki-taka seems to be going up in smoke. Iniesta (as the phrase goes: When you say you're leaving, you've already left) is only up to glimpses of class here and there. They are leading to goals, mind you. Silva is MIA, as is Thiago. Between them, we can't expect Isco and what's left of Iniesta to reproduce our fabled brand of play, one all about wearing the opposition down with constant control of possession. And we lack the energy to press the ball hard enough when we lose it. This team needs reinventing.