Spain’s rout and the death of Tiki-taka

Published: June 20, 2014

Every fan in the stadium was stunned, while some of them were seen crying when Spain was kicked out of the World Cup by two successive defeats in their opening matches in Group B. Firstly, they were thrashed 5-1 by the Netherlands who avenged themselves for the 2010 World Cup final defeat. Secondly, Chile embarrassed the defending World Champions when they pushed the ball twice into the net with surprisingly accurate passing and ball control. All eyes in the stadium then witnessed the death of a long-reigning successful playing style, the Tiki-taka.

Former Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff, during his eight-year tenure with Barcelona from 1988 to 1996, implemented this playing style for the first time. It went through a lot of innovation and was nurtured into a form which saw Spain win the World Cup in 2010.

In a nutshell, Tiki-taka is all about suffocating the opposition of possession, creating short passes and in the process generating exploitable holes in the defence which creates goal-scoring opportunities.

However, the distinct playing style was dominating but not invincible.

Many teams developed different strategies to counter the unique playing style which didn’t demand players with muscular grit to hold the midfield. The success of Xavi and Andres Iniesta in the midfield can be credited to this peculiar playing style which focuses more on precision in passing rather than extraordinary dribbling skills or herculean physical strength.

The most successful style to counter Tiki-taka was displayed by Brazil in the 2013 Confederations Cup final where they beat the World Champions 3-0 with pressing-attack. While Tiki-taka focuses on short and quick passing, pressing-attack pushes the midfielders and forwards to attack the players with possession. This cuts down their time to think before passing. Another addition to pressing-attack is the positioning of players close to the possession holders — the midfielders — with a supplement of calculated hard tackles to pressure the opposition players.

All in all, Tiki-taka did help Spain bring home a number of accolades but it’s time they say goodbye to it or at least innovate it to become unpredictable.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2014.

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