One week ago, the tables turned. Spain got a taste of their own medicine. An year back in the Euros final, Spain had thrashed a good looking Italian side 4-0. An year later, they were thrashed 3-0, got their poster boy sent off, and looked a shadow of the team that claimed consecutive European and World titles. They rode on luck throughout the tournament. Got the easier of the two groups, and had it not been for Italy’s missed chances and the brilliance of Casillas, Spain might not have crawled past the semis like they did, winning on penalties.
Parallels have often been drawn between Barcelona and Spain, and not surprisingly so. The two sides share the same core players. Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Busquets, Fabregas, Villa, Jordi Alba, Pedro, are all automatic choices for both club and country. Consequently their style of play is identical. Short passes, intricate through balls, and midfield domination are typical for both sides. Since the last two seasons or so Barcelona has not been the formidable team they used to be (although that might change with the signing of Neymar). This was highlighted by the 7-0 drubbing on aggregate by Bayern Munich in this year’s Champions League semi final. When the same players went to Brazil with the same system, they were drubbed 3-0 by a home-charged Brazilian side. So, has the system been finally beaten?
Spain’s formula is fairly simple. Tire out your opponents by making them chase the ball, then find little holes in their defense and exploit them with their precise through balls. And they are brilliant at it. What they are not brilliant at is chasing the game, working under pressure and fighting against time. In the World Cup and Euros, Spain nearly always scored the first goal. They would then tire and break the opponents morale, making him mindlessly chase the ball. That is why people started labelling their football ‘boring’. Because this way they could make it look a one-sided contest against the best of teams. But now the others have caught up. They have learned the best way to defeat this system is to score first, like Brazil did against Spain and Munich did against Barcelona. They then have to chase the game. Instead of dictating play, they have to force the issue, something they are evidently not good at. Why?
The problem with Spain’s strategy is that it is inflexible and rigid. They do not know alot of ways to score goals except the one they use all the time. Their aerial threat is minimal, crossing ability mediocre, and free-kick goals negligible. Hence when they need to create something out of nothing, they fail miserably.
Spain met two brilliant and rising teams at the Confederations Cup. They struggled against both. At the World Cup next year, they meet atleast a dozen more, and at the same territory. Will Spain continue to dominate World Football? I don’t think so. But then again, they still have some of the best players in the World. The system might not be as formidable now, but these players are still class. So how will Spain fare in the Mega Event next year? Your guess is as good as mine.