The 2014 World Cup has seen comebacks, shocks, late goals and bags of drama. But above all else, one idea has stuck in the mind of every football fan - is this the end of possession based football? The demolition of the Spanish national team by both the Netherlands and Chile may suggest so.
For the past six years, stretching back from at least Euro 2008, Spanish footballing principles have dominated and entertained the world immensely. Johan Cryuff first planted the seeds many years ago at Barcelona, and that initial idea has spanned into a vast kingdom of comfortable passing Spaniards that show off their calm heads all over the world.
Barcelona and Spain have been the masters of this style, the former becoming arguably one the best clubs teams to have ever graced the field, especially between 2009-11. The latter have enjoyed a more impressive dominance though, winning three international tournaments in a row is no mean feat and they will go down as undoubtedly the lengthiest all powering national team of all time.
But alas, every great kingdom must fall. The extent to which it will however, remains to be seen for the tiki-taka reign. Since Barcelona won the Champions League in 2011, slowly but surely their once so unbeatable Catalan fortress has become quite beatable.
Chelsea were the first to exploit it over two legs in 2012, when their 'park the bus' tactic saw the favorites crash out the competition, but in 2013 the cracks widened. Bayern Munich managed a 7-0 mauling of Barca in a typically efficient, well disciplined, German performance. Even this year two counter-attacking Spaniards in Atletico and Real Madrid reached the Champions League final instead of their Liga compatriots Barcelona.
Still, Spain headed to Rio de Janeiro as one of the overwhelming favorites for a second successive World Cup, along with hosts Brazil. No one expected that the holders would undergo such a spectacular demise as the one that Louis van Gaal kicked started in Salvador. The problem could not be focused on one aspect, or one individual in particular, it was an array of inability to both create and defend which felled Spain.
Initially, it seemed Spain were ready move on from their golden formula of recent times, playing with the soon to be Chelsea striker Diego Costa in place of a false nine, but the team could not adapt as easily as expected and the national side began to look like last season's Manchester United. There was no style of play, no definitive tactical approach, and very, very little quality.
The midfield that once looked unconquerable and resolute looked immobile and leggy, the defense of the on-paper fantastic Sergio Ramos and Javi Martinez or Gerard Pique was shaky to say the least. In attack Costa looked isolated and unfit, even one of the most consistent goalkeeper of the past few decades in Iker Casillas endured a horrible two games, blotched with flaws and dodgy saves.
So what happens now? Do Spain start a fresh and signal the end of tiki-taka, or make a few tweaks and try to preserve what was once the pinnacle of footballing approaches? There are positive signs for Spain of course, their under-21 group won the last Euros for their age group in 2013 and they show no signs of letting up in terms of footballing development.
The current side still has fantastic qualities too of course, the calm passers of Iniesta and David Silva, the lively athleticism of Cesc Fabregas and Pedro, as well as the intelligent defensive minded players like Sergio Busquets will all be vital to any rebuild. The basis for evolution, not revolution are all there.
Spain, and any possession based side need to make decisions sooner rather than later. Now the footballing world has seen the apparent cracks in their elegant system, any attempts to continue as they are would likely prove mute. The direction football takes however, is one that not just one team alone in Spain can govern, and the global footballing approach that unfolds in the next few years will be fascinating to watch.
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