Back in Euro 2008, the style of play Spain engineered attracted awe and acclaim from pundits and fans all over the world. Their form of free-flowing passes was beautiful to watch as they broke down overwhelmed opponents. As Spain won the title off a goal by Fernando Torres in the final against Germany, the sky was the limit for La Roja.
Having since won the World Cup in South Africa, Spain entered this tournament as favorites to lift their third international prize, a feat no other team has ever accomplished. Despite the enormous expectations, Spain has flaunted their usual tiki-taka style which has rendered their opponents useless as they fruitlessly chase after the ball. Having made it to the final, enthusiasm should be at an all-time high for a team on the verge of the unimaginable.
Yet, despite the historic circumstances, I can’t root for Spain due to some of the very reasons I used to appreciate about them.
It has now reached the point where Spain’s possession-oriented play inspires shrugs rather than unmitigated joy. Their approach to winning, which was once beneficial and stirring, is now hurting the quality of the game.
Starting with their run in South Africa, Spain has become painful to watch because their play is so strikingly dull. They are now seemingly content scoring one goal and then canceling out the rest of the game by aimlessly passing the ball sideways or backwards. Rather than moving forward to score multiple goals, Spain has accepted that their domination of possession is enough to strive for during matches.
Of course, I don’t fault a team for doing whatever is needed in order to win. The way Spain take over matches is an outstanding testament to their chemistry, patience, stamina, talent and will.
The style of play which they have adopted from Barcelona has been extremely effective in getting them key results. Their constant passing has also become a testament to their ability to hold leads and cut out mistakes. Rather than leaving themselves exposed by moving forward, Spain has recognized that interminable passing in midfield and in their own half is enough to ensure their desired results.
In regards to the increasing criticism about how Spain is too slow and labored when building chances, Andres Iniesta stated, “That’s what makes football great, isn’t it? We can’t all like the same thing, we won’t all agree about everything, and that’s just the difference of opinion that exists. Obviously for us, our game, the way we play it, is what has brought us success and brought us titles, and that’s the way we do it, there’s no other way.”
Yet, there’s no denying that the lack of pace and excitement in Spain’s form has made matches involving them unsatisfying. The way Spain plays must incite anger and exasperation since the majority of their matches have become mind numbingly boring yarns that make 0-0 draws more appealing to watch.
Their lack of attacking play is astounding considering how often they are able to win. In the 2010 World Cup, they scored a collective 8 goals in the whole tournament which is the lowest total ever for a winner. In this current Euro, they have only scored more than one goal twice in the whole tournament and one of those results was the match against France which was 1-0 up until a Xabi Alonso penalty in stoppage time when the game was over.
While teams don’t always need to score plenty of goals in order to be exciting, watching Spain’s tempo induces snoring.
What is especially disappointing is the way other teams have performed against their tiki-taka style. Opponents become too mentally fazed by having to chase the ball from Spain and eventually lose their composure and will as the game wears on. In this current Euro, when Spain has faced opponents like Portugal or France, the opposition was unable to get the ball because they were too rushed with their counters and were wasteful with their opportunities. While this is a glowing testament to how Spain consistently wins, it’s disheartening to see that no other team can disrupt the stranglehold La Roja has on every game.
Considering they don’t have an elite striker on their roster, Spain has done well by settling with a barrage of midfielders who can create chances but aren’t clinical goal scorers. The notion that Spain has become another version of Barcelona without Lionel Messi is absolutely true as they really don’t have anyone who poses a serious scoring threat.
Yet, they’ve shown that winning doesn’t need to be rousing which is wonderful for them and terrible for neutrals. What’s disconcerting is that Spain’s style justifies the notion many Americans have about football as a boring game where there isn’t enough action. Casual fans that are just getting into the sport may likely become turned off after watching Spanish players pass the ball back and forth to each other without any real intent to actually score.
There is no doubt that Spain is the most talented team in this Euro and should be considered a favorite in the final on Sunday against Italy. The fact that their collective approach allows them to keep the ball is an effective tactic that most other teams are incapable of.
Yet, despite all the praise Spain earns, there is just no escaping the bitter truth; Spain is just not fun to watch. They are the antithesis of fun. They play an overly-conservative style in which they intentionally hold themselves back from their full potential in terms of how much excitement they could create through attacking. Frankly, Spain hasn’t even looked all that convincing in most of their matches this Euro as they’ve settled with non-enterprising passing which kills off any game they’re in.
Therefore, it is no coincidence that during the match with France, the crowds of Donetsk who paid good money to watch memorable football derisively whistled at the Spanish players whenever they had the ball. It is also no surprise that the stadium in general was quiet and unenthused despite the level of star power on the pitch.
“Every opinion deserves respect and that might be true,” said Iniesta. “But anyway, this is the style that has given us so much success, the style we identify with, and the style that is changing the history of Spanish football for the better. I think that is good enough.”
While Spain have all the right in the world to continue playing as they do, supporters of “The Beautiful Game” like myself also have a right to our opinion. While I begrudgingly respect Spain as an elite team, I can’t help but disrespect them because they play in a very lackluster fashion.
As for the final on Sunday, here’s hoping that more than one goal is scored and that it is a memorable match most fans can look back on happily for its entertainment value.
However, I just can’t help but fear that if Spain has their way; it’s going to be pure torture to watch.