A Glimpse of the Favourites: Part 4 - Spain

By Gabriel Cazotto

Profile: Tic-tac, tic-tac, like a Swiss watch. Ball at the feet of Xavi, tic-tac, tic-tac ball at the feet of Iniesta, tic-tac, tic-tac, which returns the ball to Xavi. This happens around 65% of the game, full control of the match and the Spanish opponent running if he was in a “silly line” behind the ball, and then, the fantastic Spanish midfield delivers the ball clean in front of the goal for the killer touch of Villa, Torres or Fàbregas, if they play without a true striker. We’ve seen that movie in 2008, 2010 and 2012, and only recently, Scolari and Bayern Munich managed to “break” this style of game. Spain still dominates world football, but not heads over the second tier of teams as it was one year ago. But the World Cup is the World Cup, Spain itself knows this well. Years and years La Roja was considered favorite and the most they could get was one semi-final in the distant 1950. Then the World Cup in Africa happened and Spain purged all their ghosts that plagued their football all these years, winning the Cup. This brought not only a great confidence in this style of play but took to the quarries of La Masia the football based on a low center of gravity, which should continue in the coming years to try to become a power. Spain got rid of the fear of winning with the tiki-taka.

Goalkeeper: Who would think that four years since the outstanding foot defense that managed to maintain the 0x0 against the Dutch in a Robben one on one with Casillas, which prompted the Spanish goalkeeper as the best in the competition, a mythical hero in Spain and the famous kiss on his wife after match, Iker would be considered match unfit for most of their supporters to be the head chief and captains of La Roja in Brazil. The lack of games, besides the Champions League one, being relegated as a reserve of Diego Lopez, by both Mourinho and Ancelotti, and the rise of Victor Valdés as a main pillar in Barcelona defense created a doubt in Del Bosque’s mind. Iker or Victor? Victor or Iker? The decision will lay and who can be more crucial. With that I’d go with Casillas, even with limited playtime. His icon situation can fear the most awesome attacker, just like Robben did in Johannesburg.

Defenders: Tarzan Puyol is no longer the depth of heart core in this defense. Sergio Ramos, a right back in 06 and 10, enters the old gigantic defender (in heart), making a duo with Piqué. If in 2010 Capdevila was the weak point on the well-covered defense, Arbeola is now the main concern of the Spaniards, especially the way that Neymar completely outplayed him in 2013 Confederations Final. This can even be more crucial and evident when Jordi Alba, which tactically is more a left-winger than left back, attacks consistently. Can the youngster Carvajal play better than Arbeola? Del Bosque still prefers Atletico’s Juanfran as reserve, or Azpilicueta from Chelsea, but the result has been the same. Puuki’s goal and Giroud’s goal, two that prevented a win by Spain initiated in the right side of the defense. If 4 years ago the defense only suffered 2 goals the entire competition, due to the incredible support of midfield in Capdevila’s weakness this seems unlikeable in 14, especially confronting two of the best attack-minded teams in the entire competition, the revengeful Dutch with Robben, van Persie and Lens trio supported by Sneijder, and the Bielsa’s memories in Sampaoli with Vargas, Valdivia and Alexis, who is very well known from his companions in Barça, all well served by the magnificent Vidal.

Midfielders: The excellence of Spanish football, created and well tribute here by the passed out of Mr. Luis Aragonés, perhaps the most important icon in this 180 degrees turnover of Spanish football mentality, the mastermind in the imposition of the tiki-taka in 2006. Which didn’t reach its full success due to an inspiring Zinedine Zidane, perhaps, if Zizou wasn’t in one of his days, La Roja could be a twice world champion by now. Xavi and Iniesta are still the key men, supported by the defensive workout rate of Busquets, while Fàbregas plays as a false winger, reaching the left side of the midfielder. Tiki-Taka is still there, effective? Yes, but well known how to be confronted, Portugal did with pressuring the defense, Brazil did with creating minor fouls to stop the possession of the ball, and Bayern did by playing vertically perfected counter-attacks. But would you doubt that something as innovative as the tiki-taka could be broken again? Or can they adept this and reach a consecutive cup that only Italy (34-38) and Brazil (58-62) did?

Forwards: The false 9 used in Euro 2012 might well be replaced by Villa’s good run in Atletico Madrid or perhaps the fantastic football that Negredo has being playing in Manchester City. A third spot can be for Fernando Torres, always criticized, very poor from what everyone taught he could turn in, but at International tournaments, can score like no one else, well he was the top scorer in both Euro 2012 and Confederations Cup 2013. Pedro is the fourth wheel acting as a right-winger, a position that David Silva, more talented, couldn’t fit well in this fantastic team. But, as 2010, doesn’t expect a show of goals feast of Spain, La Roja’s football has been concentrating in controlling the game and define in 1, 2 chances precisely. What is enough is enough. Sometimes a 4x0 against Italy might happen if the tiki-taka prevails 100%. But unlikable that Spain beat their adversaries by more than 2 goals in a group as difficult as it is. Even against Australia who will probably lock them needing desperately a tie to proceed.

Tactics: The style of play that was born with Aragonés in 2008 was slightly modified over the years by del Bosque, the use of real wingers like Reyes, Joaquín, Villa and Luis Garcia in 2006 were retrieved to a bet on a more compacted team inside the pitch, especially with the midfielder filling more spaces, pressuring the opponent’s defenders and occupying the central band of midfield. The 4-1-2-3, focused on the ball possession inside the opponent’s field makes the defenders act more advanced than usual. Fàbregas is also an important role in the resumption of the ball, playing a bit further back than Pedro, and acting as a “false 9” sometimes. Xavi and Iniesta recreate the Barça fantastic midfielder duo in the Spanish team. Villa can be used as centre forward, modifying thus the line-up without a fixed striker.



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