BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s fall from the top of the soccer rankings took an even more humbling turn Thursday when the team dropped out of the top 10.
The Spanish spent almost six full years at No. 1, winning the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. But the troubles in the aging team became apparent in the first game of last year’s World Cup in Brazil, when the Netherlands routed the top-ranked defending champions 5-1.
After early elimination, Spain later lost friendlies to France and Germany. And in October, the team’s eight-year unbeaten run in qualifying matches ended in a surprising 2-1 loss at Slovakia.
On Thursday, FIFA’s latest rankings dropped Spain to 11th place, the first time the team has been outside the top 10 since 2007.
“We have to return to being the team we were before,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said Wednesday, a day before the rankings were released.
Spain, which fell one spot from 10th, has not played a match since losing to Germany 1-0 in November. That result handed Spain its first loss on home soil in 35 matches, dating back to 2006.
This week’s drop, however, has more to do with how good the team was four years ago. The four-year cycle of results used by FIFA means that wins from 2011 are no longer counted.
At the top of the rankings, world champion Germany remained in first place, ahead of Argentina, Colombia, Belgium and the Netherlands. Italy climbed up to replace Spain in 10th.
Spain rose to the top of the rankings when it won Euro 2008, with Luis Aragones as coach. The team remained at the top when Del Bosque took over and guided the team to the 2010 World Cup title and the Euro 2012 title.
Del Bosque has tried to lead what he calls a “sweet” rejuvenation of the team, but he has had mixed results as Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and David Villa have all retired from international duty.
Striker Diego Costa, who plays for Chelsea, has not completely meshed with the national team’s “tiki-taka” passing attack, and newcomers such as striker Paco Alcacer and forward Manuel “Nolito” Agudo have been hampered by injuries.
Doubts also still remain about whether Iker Casillas will be the team’s goalkeeper for the Euro 2016 tournament in France.
Despite his unquestionable decline, Del Bosque said Casillas was still his No. 1 ‘keeper, at least for now.
“We shouldn’t change unless (Casillas) has an alarming dip in form,” Del Bosque said. “I think he is fine. He will be on our next squad list along with (David) de Gea.”
That list will be for a European Championship qualifier against Ukraine in Seville on March 27 and a friendly against the Netherlands four days later. Spain is tied with Ukraine in second place in Group C, trailing Slovakia by three points.
That’s a far cry from the dominant days of the not-so-distant past.
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