Arguably never before will there have been such a mismatch in a major international tournament as when world and European champions Spain take on the minnows of Tahiti in the famed surroundings of the Maracana on Thursday. Since the draw was made for the Confederations Cup it is a match that has been looked forward to with a mixture of intrigue and trepidation as to the level of damage perhaps the greatest international side in history will inflict on a side made up almost entirely of amateurs.
The record win in the Confederations Cup stands at 6-0, while in the 83-year history of the World Cup the biggest margin of victory has been nine goals. There will be some surprise if Spain do not eclipse both of those. In their opening match Tahiti fell 6-1 to a Nigeria side that were far from at their best and still missed a host of chances that could have seen them hit double figures.
Yet, the side that surprisingly earned their place in Brazil following a triumph in the Oceania Nations Cup are undoubtedly a great story. And they enhanced the goodwill felt toward them with a performance against Nigeria that was based on looking to showcase what they could do and make the most of the experience rather than merely packing the edge of their own penalty area and trying to keep the score down as low as possible.
For that they deserve enormous credit. But the same approach against a Spain side that thrives on incisively picking holes in the opposition could lead to a massacre. Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta accepts that they will have to be more disciplined against Spain.
"There is reason for concern after watching Spain’s performance against Uruguay,” he said, according to FIFA.com. “Tactically, we need to be better than we were against Nigeria. And on a physical level, we'll need to be stronger in the challenge.”
Spain excelled in their opening game, although admittedly against a Uruguay side that didn’t seem to have a clear idea on how to even attempt to counter the tiki-taka onslaught. While the play of Vicente del Bosque’s side has in the past been guilty of possession for possession’s sake, against Uruguay they played with much more attacking intent, helped by the presence of striker Roberto Soldado.
The real question against Tahiti is if Spain will look to pile on the goals against Tahiti even long after a victory has been secured. Running up the score is a notion that is interpreted very differently in different cultures. Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta believes it would be showing Tahiti a lack of respect to take their foot off the gas.
“The best way of respecting your opponents is by playing as well as you can and not relaxing," he explained. "We're just thinking about competing and winning, not about the goals we are going to score.”
Iniesta may not be on the pitch, however, with Del Bosque likely to take the opportunity to rotate his side and keep players fresh for a campaign that will almost certainly see them reach at least the semifinals with a win against Tahiti.
D: Azpilicueta, Albiol, Ramos, Monreal
M: Cazorla, Martinez, Mata
F: Silva, Torres, Villa
D: Aitamai, J. Tehau, Vallar, Ludivion, V. Simon
M: Vahirua, Bourebare, Caroine, Chong Hue
F: A. Tehau
Prediction: There were plenty of positives for Tahiti to take from their opening match with Steevy Chong Hue impressing and their one professional Marama Vahirua also adding a touch of quality. But their, in many ways pleasing, naivety will be crudely exposed by their next opponents. Even a second-string Spain side will offer no relief, with the quality in that team still capable of competing with the world’s best.
The possession statistics could make bizarre reading with Spain quite possible set to have the ball more than 90 percent of the time. Despite Iniesta’s comments, Spain could well stop going for the throat late on, but likely not before double figures have been reached.
Spain 10-0 Tahiti
Where to watch: The Confederations Cup Group B match will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN, with a live stream available on ESPN3.