Spain's pass and move style under threat




(Eduardo Vargas 20, Charles Aranguiz 43)

Holland's Total Football may have won them many fans, but they never won the World Cup playing that style.

For Spain, their tiki-taka style of football won them the European Championship in 2008 and 2012 and the World Cup in 2010 but the defeat by Chile yesterday morning not only spelt the end for one of the greatest national teams, but also threatened the demise of an entire footballing philosophy.

Spain's intricate passing style, dubbed "tiki-taka'', swept all before it for the best part of six years, but the sight of Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso being harried out of their stride by Jorge Sampaoli's hard-working Chile at the Maracana felt like the end of an era.

Argentina legend Diego Maradona is among those who believe that tiki-taka has become a tactical relic, but can an approach that has become so widespread be invalidated by the result of just one game?

As Spain midfielder David Silva asked British newspaper The Independent before the tournament: "Why would we change? We've done very well with this style. There's no need to change it."

Where Spain led with tiki-taka, winning Euro 2008, so Barcelona followed, dominating the European club game between 2008 and 2011 under Pep Guardiola, who subsequently installed the same playing philosophy at Bayern Munich.

Carlo Ancelotti's counter-attacking Real Madrid got the better of both teams last season, however, routing Bayern 5-0 in the Champions League semi-finals and edging out Barcelona in the final of the Copa del Rey.

Bayern's loss to Madrid was particularly illustrative, with the Spanish side procuring a 1-0 first-leg lead despite enjoying only 36 per cent of possession at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Indeed, all over Europe, teams have been relinquishing the ball and still enjoying success, with Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea in the vanguard of the new wave of counter-punching sides.

Rather than endlessly circulating possession in a manner that prompted some critics of tiki-taka to brand it "boring'', the counter-punchers rely on breathless industry and water-tight defensive organisation.

It is on their opponents' mistakes that they prey and in the tika-taka era, with teams falling over themselves to ape the Spanish style by taking more and more risks in possession, it is an increasingly effective approach.

Against such tactics, tiki-taka can seem naive in its steadfast commitment to conserving possession, but its impact already reaches so deep that it would prove impossible to fully uproot.

It was Barcelona, with Lionel Messi, who first brought the "false nine'' tactic to a wider audience, while it is now commonplace to see goalkeepers methodically practising first-time passes during their pre-match warm-ups.

The cult of possession has forced players in every position to sharpen up their technique and has made the scrutiny of passing completion statistics an early port of call in any after-match post-mortem.

Its legacy can also be seen in the ubiquitousness of small, Spanish midfielders at Europe's leading clubs, from Silva at Manchester City and Santi Cazorla at Arsenal to Thiago Alcantara at Bayern and Juan Mata at Manchester United.

While Xavi Hernandez may never play for Spain again, having been dropped for the 2-0 defeat by Chile, it is in his image - and with likeminded players such as Thiago - that the national team will be rebuilt.

The 34-year-old midfielder, a faultless passing metronome for Spain and Barcelona, typifies tiki-taka more than any other player and he believes that it will always be a point of reference for teams such as his own where waiting for the opponents to make a mistake is not an option.

"If you go two years without winning, everything has to change. But you change names, not identity," he said in a 2011 interview.

"The philosophy can't be lost. Our fans wouldn't understand a team that sat back and played on the break."

As Sampaoli observed before his side's victory yesterday. Spain are paying the price for the fatigue and fading motivation of their players after six years of near-constant success, rather than any inherent flaw in their tactical approach.

Tiki-taka owed its origins to a unique set of circumstances, specifically the emergence at Barcelona and Spain of a group of similarly aged players who were coached in the same way.

Its figureheads, such as Xavi and Iniesta, were always destined to topple from the sport's summit at some point, but with tiki-taka disciples now dotting the game, it would be precipitous to sound the death knell too soon. - AFP.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque could not hide his disappointment after the holders were eliminated.

"It is a sad day for all of us," he said after Spain were left without a point from two games in Group B.

"We are sorry we didn't succeed (but) now is too early to analyse where we go from here.

"We were inferior to both Holland and Chile. They got the goals and gave us a mountain to climb. We were too timid in the first half and did not react sufficiently in the second.

"The first goal really buoyed them and they really got into our faces."

The defeat marks a huge fall from grace for Spain. They joined the other team in their group, Australia, in being the first two teams to be knocked out of these Finals.

"These things happen in sport. It was unexpected, but we need to deal with it. We were unable to maintain the levels of conviction and hunger that brought us success and happiness before," said midfielder Xabi Alonso, the 32-year-old veteran of more than 100 games for his country.

"We committed a lot of errors and didn't have the solidity that had helped us win so many matches. We didn't have the same feeling on the pitch that we had during other championships. Mentally we were not ready and physically we were struggling a little."

Captain Iker Casillas, who has come in for heavy criticism for his performances at these Finals after a difficult two years at club level, hinted that a lack of hunger cost the holders dear.

"The level of commitment was not what we wanted it to be," said the goalkeeper. "We didn't deserve to go through to the next round. We have been beaten by superior teams.

"I have not played well and neither have the team in general. Now we need to be even more united and finish in the most dignified manner possible."

Defender Sergio Ramos added: "Evidently it was unexpected but we must accept defeat and congratulate Chile and Holland for being better than us."

The Real Madrid player refused to accept that it was the end of an era for Spain. "I don't think that it is the end of a cycle. I just feel that from Vicente right through to the last man we came here with the intention of doing well, but now it is our turn to be knocked out early."

On the future of del Bosque, he added: "We don't have a voice or a vote. The first person who must decide whether he will continue or not is him. Obviously we all respect him. He is a magnificent coach and person and he deserves respect whatever he does." - AFP.

No one has done more than world football than Spain.

— Chile and Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez

This team has defined an era and achieved things no one else has in history, but in football you cannot live in the past.

— Spain and Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos

World Cup