Spain’s elimination after just two games has come as a huge shock to the footballing world. This is mostly the same Spanish team which had previously won Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, and were therefore touted as one of the possible contenders for the winners of this years tournament in Brazil.
It may be even more of a surprise to the people of Spain whose clubs enjoyed great success in the 2013/14 European competitions. Sevilla beat Benfica on penalties to win the Europa League, and there was an all Spanish Champions League Final which Real Madrid beat Atletico 4-1 in extra time.
The World Cup is special where no game can be taken for granted, every team has to qualify to take part in these finals (excluding the host nation) so they are here on merit. I don’t think that Spain felt like they’d breeze through their group but an exit this early was certainly not imagined. It certainly looked to have potential challenges before the tournament started so maybe they should have been more wary. Holland were looking to get revenge for their Euro 2012 final defeat, Chile have been viewed by some as dark horses for the competition if they got past this tough group, and Australia who would be eager to prove they won’t be a pushover. So just two games in, a heavy 5-1 defeat to Holland by the devastating duo of Van Persie and Robben, followed by a 2-0 loss against Chile, means their fate is sealed and a win against Australia won’t change that.
Watching the Spain’s game against Chile was frustrating. It was a game that they needed to show urgency. You could tell from watching that the team – very similar to the one that did so well in previous competitions – was just not used to losing and not being in a winning position. Perhaps this team is ageing past their peak? The strength of the Spanish style of play, tika-taka, del Bosque has implemented is their ability to control games by keeping possession and tiring out the opposition in their attempts to win the ball back. Stats of 75% possession have been a common sight in teams who play similarly, however it was almost 50% each at some stages against Chile.
The poor individual performances of their key players, notably Casillas and Alonso, certainly didn’t help. Casillas hasn’t been a regular at Real Madrid last season, and while there is no doubting his ability which he was shown in his long career at the top-level, his position was a doubt before the game after his mistakes against Holland. Perhaps this was the wrong decision to stick with him, although I don’t think many thought they would be repeated so soon after. Alonso, who is world-renowned for his passing ability, also had a poor match before getting replaced, uncharacteristically failing to find his teammates. With these two positions so important, with great responsibility on them, it was always going to tough to combat the Chile threat and try and get a positive result.
Thinking back to last season, could it be that the footballing world has found a solution to tika-taka? Yes Spanish clubs dominated the European competitions, but Real Madrid and Atletico do play a more direct style, content to control possession but also opting for a long ball over the top after a good run from the forward.
Barcelona who most closely match Spain’s style of play, with a heavily Spanish squad, had a poor season by their high standards after losing the Copa Del Rey final against Real, finishing 2nd in the tightly contested La Liga, and losing in the Champions League quarter finals against Atletico. Former Barca boss Pep Guardiola took over Bayern Munich last season and has enjoyed great dominance in Germany, winning the league with a record seven games to spare. He aimed to bring his Spanish style to the German club, enlisting Spanish internationals Thiago and Javi Martinez to aid his project. In Europe Bayern comfortably reached the Semi Finals of the competition they won the season before. After the away leg ended 1-0 against Real Madrid, there was a sense that a turnaround would be achievable in the second leg at the Allianz Arena. However they got torn apart four goals to nil in front of their own supporters. The combination of hard-work and effective counter attacking did wonders for Madrid. Deja-Vu at the world cup, it appears Robben took note of his sides flaws in the Champions League and successfully replicated the performances of Di Maria and Ronaldo. Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona, followed suit for Chile, causing grief to his Barcelona teammates.
While this style of play has been criticized by some for being “boring”, there is a sense that is how football “should be played”. This style of play saw Spain last night maintain their philosophy of keeping the ball despite desperately needing a goal, playing short balls in their own half with just minutes left in the match. I don’t think that anyone can really celebrate Spain’s exit, although I agree that to see them succeeding for the fourth time in a row would be a bit too much.
So perhaps Spain have been found out and this is the death of tika-taka. Trying to achieve success the same way without adapting to change was always going to lead to the prospect of failure at some point. It’ll be interesting to see how they do against Australia (a team unlucky not to have picked up any points so far), and whether they decide to change how they play in the future, they certainly have a talented young squad ready to step up.
This is the first football post I’ve done on my blog so I hope you found it interesting, I welcome any feedback.
Thanks for reading!