Barcelona's defeat to AC Milan threatens La Liga's status
Following Barcelona's shock 2-0 defeat to AC Milan on Wednesday night, Spain has been left with the realistic threat of not having a team progress to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in eight years.
Goals from Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari gave the Italians an unexpectedly healthy advantage to take to the Nou Camp in three weeks time and there was dismay amongst the Spanish press on Thursday that the country's domination on the continent in recent years may be coming to an end.
'Fright or death?' asked Madrid sports daily AS, whilst its rival publication in the capital Marca was even more scathing.
"The Cules (Barca's nickname) played their worst game in five years," Marca wrote under the headline "this is not Barca."
For once, the Barcelona sports dailies Sport and Mundo Deportivo agreed, with the former highlighting the 'worst Barca' and 'worst referee' as the causes for defeat.
And whilst there was some cause for complaint at Scottish referee Craig Thomson's decision not to rule out Milan's first goal for handball and at the uneven San Siro playing surface, the most galling aspect for most Barca players was that the team was essentially to blame.
Defender Gerard Pique claimed Barca "maybe weren't as good as they thought they were," whilst Dani Alves accepted that "we didn't generate chances or react after the first goal.'
The feeling of deflation is not restricted to Catalonia, however, as all four of Spain's participants in the last-16 have failed to shine.
Real Madrid have an uphill task if they are to continue their quest for a 10th European crown after a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United last week and both Malaga and Valencia slipped to defeats against Porto and Paris Saint-Germain respectively.
Theories have already started spreading over if and why Spain's cycle of dominance, at least at club level, could be coming to an end.
Tomas Guasch's editorial in Marca on Thursday claims it was only a matter of time until the lack of competition in La Liga affected Barca and Madrid's performance in Europe, whilst others speculate that the influence of a depressed economy has finally transferred itself onto the field.
However, such pessimism should be put on hold for now. Barca's amazing record of having reached the semi-finals of Europe's premier club competition for the past five seasons means if there is any team capable of overturning a 2-0 deficit they remain the most likely to do so.
And Madrid also emerged 3-2 victors after travelling to face a more fearsome looking United side following a 0-0 draw at the Bernabeu in 2000.
As much pride as is taken in the achievements of the likes of Malaga and Valencia, Spanish football still tends to define itself by how its two behemoths perform.
Should they overcome the best that Manchester and Milan has to offer in the coming weeks then any fears of rapid decline will have been suitably vanquished.
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