Why I no longer love Spain’s tiki-taka
The Spanish soccer team has achieved amazing things in recent years, but face it, their brilliance can be boring.
By Guy Hedgecoe
“Since the Brazil team of 1970, I can’t remember a side that thrashed and thrilled in virtually all its games – the closest thing to that I have seen is this Spanish team.” (José Sámano, El País)
When world and European champions Spain play Portugal for a place in the 2012 European Championship final on Wednesday night, part of me will be rooting for Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese. And if I don’t punch the air when Andrés Iniesta (or one of the other seemingly countless pixie-like midfielders) scores Spain’s first goal, it’s because I’m bored of tiki-taka.
First of all, I should explain that I deeply admire what Spain have achieved over the last four years. Having struggled for decades to forge a clear footballing identity and the results that reflected the country’s pool of talent, coach Luis Aragonés and then Vicente del Bosque found the answer by taking Spain’s strength – short-passing, high-possession football based on technique – to an extreme. The never-ending series of triangular passes orchestrated by señores Iniesta, Hernández, Silva, Alonso and company leaves opponents mesmerised and exhausted, until the knockout punch comes. It’s death by a thousand passes.
In the 2008 European tournament this was a relative novelty, meaning many of Spain’s opponents were surprised by its execution. In the 2010 World Cup it was less so and sides were more savvy to it. It was left to the often distinctly un-tiki-taka exploits of striker David Villa to get the team out of jail several times. But the absence of the superb Villa due to injury for this tournament has stripped Spain’s tiki-taka down to its absolute bare bones; and interestingly, it’s not the pretty sight that the likes of José Sámano, El País’s deeply patriotic sportswriter, would have us believe.
Real Madrid fans may not like it, but the core of this Spanish side was built upon the all-conquering Barcelona of Pep Guardiola. Carles Puyol (currently absent due to injury), Gerard Piqué, Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Villa were all mainstays of the World Cup-winning team. And to a certain extent they play like that Barça side, hoarding possession with non-stop passing and movement.
But they lack a key ingredient: Lionel Messi. Messi not only scores huge numbers of goals for Barcelona, he also offers them direct, incisive runs with the ball, something which prevents them from being simply a team that passes ad nauseum (Villa also lends Barça this quality, but to a lesser extent, given how Guardiola has deployed him relatively sparingly and in a wide position).
Obviously, Spain will never have Messi at their disposal and without the verticalidad of Villa in Poland and Ukraine, they lack a first-choice player to break the tiki-taka tedium.
Fernando Torres is arguably just such a player. But Del Bosque has preferred to keep him on the bench for much of this tournament, using his army of undersized midfielders to take care of the attacking. Where will this tactical reliance on midfield possession end? With no strikers, no defenders…no goalkeeper, perhaps, just 11 technically blessed midfielders merrily passing the ball around until someone walks it into the net.
The game against France was a case in point. Once Alonso had scored early on, the prospect of another 70 minutes of Spanish possession against the unambitious French hardly got the pulse racing.
Spain may well reach the final and win this tournament. If they do so, they could easily call themselves the finest international side Europe has seen. But whatever their cheerleaders say, they’re not the most entertaining.
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Published: Jun 26 2012
Category: Iberoblog, Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=6466
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Tags: cristiano ronaldo, Euro 2012, Messi, Ronaldo, spain, Spain football, spain news, spain soccer, Spain vs Portugal, spanish football, Spanish soccer