Despite Being on the Verge of Greatness, Spain is Easy to Root Against

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.

52 thoughts on “Despite Being on the Verge of Greatness, Spain is Easy to Root Against”

  1. It’s not that Spain is boring to watch. The reason why their play is so dull is because
    1) they sit too deep. Has anybody else notice how Spain put 10 men behind the ball whenever they are defending?? when you combine that with their possession based football then it can be very irritating.
    2) Messi is Argentinian.
    3) No villa

    1. You said that Spain isn’t boring to watch and then listen reasons why they are. Even with Villa in the World Cup, they were still dull.

      1. I didn’t speak in absolutes(i.e “Spain isn’t boring”). The reasons i listed are why spain is irritating to watch.

  2. I completely agree with the article. When I’m watching Spain play I feel like I’m watching a Barca match with the constant passing and domination of possession. Not only does it lull the defense into a stupor, it also does is to the viewers. You can always predict how Spain are going to play. Yes, it is boring to watch, but in the end it does get Spain results so you can’t really fault them. I guess if that’s their key to victory, more power to them even though I hate watching it.

  3. Of course anyone that prefers the tactics of teams like Stoke and company will find Spain boring. If you don’t understand the nuances of the game then possession football is boring. Spain’s possession has a purpose and some of the intricacies of their passing and movement is a sight to behold. I prefer it to kick and run football that is hectic and seems exciting but is nowhere as beautiful as the way barcelona or Spain play.

  4. Haha,If the gaffer was looking for an article to increase the responses then this should certainly do it. Michael,If you don’t like the way a game involving Spain can go, thats understandable, unfortunately you seem to not understand why and are laying blame at the wrong feet.

    Hurting the game? I can only put this piece down to some kind of jealousy in your sub conscious manipulating our conscious into interpreting the submissive negative crouch that other teams either start out in or end up in after the first 15 minutes of enthusiasm is sucked away from them when teams play Spain.

    Italy, played with verve, vision, and persistence against Spain in their first group game that ended up as a 1-1 but was still an absolutely incredible game. To say that they play conservatively is so far off base it begs belief, if you are referring to the fact that when Spain attack and reach the opponents last 3rd that they find 10 – 11 men every time so have to probe then yes, what do you suggest Spain do? perhaps they should just throw up their arms and say “oh well, 10 – 11 players again, ok, just slash at the ball and waste it, lets try again in a minute, lets not hustle the ball back either”.

    What it appears you are doing is making an excuse for other teams lacking technical ability and hustle, could the spanish be more decisive around their opponents 18 yard box? yes, but with Villa out they don’t have that in any one that the manager trusts, which is why Cesc gets the nod. but they attack more than most teams, it may mot end up as .

    Defensive, uninspired garbage played by Hodgson’s England, Di Matteo’s Chelsea against Barca and Bayern, the Czech’s, Stoke every season, Wolves last season and Leeds under Don Revie in the 70’s, that stuff is harmful to football an d”Damaging the Game” as you put it.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if you could actually back it up with examples of their negative play with context, but you haven’t which is a shame.

    oh, changing the article’s title to something less incendiary was probably a good idea.

    1. I kept stating over and over again throughout the article why I understand Spain play the way they do so I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

      Not sure where you’re going with the Italy example either because Italy didn’t park the bus against Spain. And what do I suggest Spain do? Well, creating chances would be nice.

      Already talked about their striker situation as well in the article. I wasn’t trying to make an excuse for more inferior teams. In fact, I was lamenting they couldn’t challenge Spain which is a testament to Spain’s skill.

      I agree. Overly defensive football isn’t good either but like I said about Spain, you can’t blame any of those teams for trying to win even though it lowers the quality of the match.

      I tried to back up my argument by talking about their run in the World Cup and specific matches in this current Euro.

      1. And that is exactly what you’re suppose to do. Spain need to stop acting like the possession line is a score line. If another team is parking the bus, you try to score and then challenge the other team to try and score. Spain should be able to defend against other teams and then be able to create better chances when the other team doesn’t have ten men just standing in the final 3rd. If Spain opened up the games, they could in with style and win a lot easier than the way they do. Del Bosque could play attractive football but he’s pragmatic and he knows the way they play now is good enough to win. What I’m trying to state is don’t think Spain have always and must play like this in order to win because they didn’t in the previous Euro.

      2. Well, it is pretty clear what the italian example was about: Italy in that game chose to play their own agressive-attacking game, totally the opposite to just about any other team: the result, a hugely entertaining, dynamic game.

        Is not rocket science really: the other teams systematically park the bus, the Spanish team don’t just throw the ball in to see what happens (seen the average size of the players?). They keep playing the ball trying to create the opportunities, which is bloody hard as they have the whole other team deffending the area. They are indeed attacking most of the time. And the result? they win, they actually score more goals than most other teams, they have the most attempts, etc.

        If you don’t like a game when Spain plays complain to the other teams: it is them that use ultra defensive strategies. Not that I would blame them for that though….

      3. The most repeated sentiment in your article is that Spain are dull and boring, you called Spain a snooze fest, and the article headline is “Spain are now hurting the game”, blaming Spain’s pace, andtheir fondness of possesion stats ov scoring , which is completely of base. I could copy and paste all the sentence’s from your article tha state this repeatedly, but It’s there for all to read..

        Like I say in my post, if you don’t like the way hey play the that is understandable, but it’s their opponents are allowing them all the possession, because they lack the skill, smarts and fitness of the Spainiards.

        I used the italy example, but i could have used portugal also, because they didn’t allow Spain to dictate the game, and didn’t park the bus at all.

        It is all a matter of taste, but when you make the statements you have in the article without anything to back them up, (and I read it again to make sure), I would hope you would want people to challenge you and debate them, that’s the point of the blog.

        I responded to your article by giving examples and my reasons for disagreeing, in your responses you have not responded to my points, and provide example, perhaps even stats like shots on goal, pitch position where they attain there posession, and at what time during the games these possesion spells happen. If you would perhaps I would better understand why you disagree.

        1. I respect your opinion and I do want people to come up with their own ideas when reading my articles. I value your debate as this is a topic that really is an ideological one in my mind.

          Still, I’m not sure what’s so off base about what I said. I said the team’s style was boring but understood and respected why they did it. I tried my hardest to not be offensive but still state my opinion.

          I agree that their opponents do allow them to get away with their style. I joked around with a friend of mine if that this was the Champions League, Spain would possibly be the only team to get very far. I still stand by my opinion that Spain could attack and open up teams more but if they get wins, that’s all that matters to them.

          I disagree about Portugal. Portugal did have the ball slightly more than other teams but I thought they did depend on the counter quite a bit. Also, as the game progressed, Spain was the stronger team as PT to me parked the bus and looked desperate to get to penalties.

          I have tried to respond to all of your points and I honestly felt there were some comments and suggestions that I already covered like why Spain play the way they do, their striker situation and examples of past games.

          In the last two games, Spain have had higher possession rates (55% and 57%) and only 5 shots on target against France and Portugal. I’m not saying that’s nothing but I believe they could have done more which once again is my opinion which you don’t have to agree with.

        2. Dust, I couldn’t agree more. I’m having a hard time understanding why people who supposedly “know” football can’t see that it’s actually the opponents of Spain that make some of these matches boring. For Michael, it’s as simple as they should just “create chances.” That’s pretty hard to do when the opponent puts nine men in the box.

  5. It’s all down to personal taste, in my opinion. There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to play football. Some people prefer the Spain/Barcelona style. I prefer the exciting Premier League style instead.

    The Gaffer

    1. Gaffer, Spain’s style is different from Barcelona’s. Barcelona presses more, plays with a higher line and attacks with much more pace than Spain. Spain plays with more caution than Barcelona.

      1. Now you’re just nitpicking. I agree that Barca is more attacking and plays with a higher line. Yet, saying their style is different is something I disagree with because they both play heavy passing, possession football with the same midfielders. Barca is just more dynamic with Messi and Villa

      1. I do believe that. No one should be able to tell someone how they should play. As long as they play within the rules, they’re playing the game.

        I have my preferences, of course.

        The Gaffer

        1. The reason I ask is because when it come to teaching the game, I don’t see why some one would teach long ball or negative parking the bus style. Fans can like a style sure, but I can’t believe any parent would be ok with their kids of any age up through 18 or even at college out here being taught to play the long ball / hit and hope or play negatively or even (which is different than being strong defensively).

    2. Umm, Gaffer, haven’t you been praising your favorite club, Swansea, for playing a Barca-style passing system? Haven’t you called it a breath of fresh air as opposed to the defense-and-long-ball Stokes of the Prem? Spain win because nobody comes close in the midfield and they cause defenders and midfielders to chase them until they make that one fatal mistake. All Swansea need is a one competent striker to challenge for European places. As for Spain, it’s that Villa is hurt, and Messi, Benzema and Ronaldo aren’t Spanish. And even without a striker, they could have scored 7 today…

  6. The problem isn’t Spain – it’s the tactics chosen by the opposition. “Parking the bus” is not only boring but has proven to be a failed approach to beating the Spaniards. Hopefully the Azzzurri will go after them tomorrow.

    1. You could argue Spain park the bus, they often have all 11 behind the ball and are the only team in the entire world who doesn’t play with a striker. When you play with 6 in the midfield you should be able to keep the ball.
      I find it very dull when they pass it across their backline for 10 minutes. I like to see good passing in a game but I also want teams to go and attack and try and score, that is the idea of the game.
      You don’t get points in a league or tournament for possession, the game doesn’t end because Spain have had 75% of the ball.
      That’s besides their annoying habit of diving and cheating

      1. Spain have 11 guys behind the ball because they want to win it back. When they lose the ball EVERYONE tries to win it back. Everyone attacks and everyone defends. We have been spoiled with the way Barcelona and Spain play. We have people now consider it boring because they pass the opposing team to sleep and then score. The teams that Spain/Barca play against make the game boring. When you have 10 guys in your defensive box what are they going to do. Pass around until you make a mistake and then capitalize on it. Spain have so much possession because they pressure so high up the field that the players on the opposing team that can actually keep possession never get a chance to have the ball because the defenders are bombing it up the field to relieve the pressure. I think Torres should play more than the one game because Spain lack that true forward that they need to get in behind like they want to. Spain is the best team that this generation of viewers will ever see. Next to Barcelona of course.

        1. It’s called parking the BUS(2 banks of 4 at the edge of their box. Ironic isn’t it? ). They park the bus when they are defending.

          1. What on earth are u saying? Parking the bus isn’t just 2 banks of four, parking the bus is puting 10 or more players (in any shape) behind the ball and leaving them there for most of the game (like Chelsea did in the UCL) and just hoofing it out and not realign vomiting to try and attack, just staying in or around their penalty box.

            Spain do absolutely nothing of the sort. Not even close.

            So many haters on Spain without knowing what they are saying.

  7. I second Duckets as to his points.

    In the end, it will be up to the opposition (internationally and in La Liga) to adapt and change and find effective counters to this strategy. That is the story of all sport all through history – certain styles will develop along the way but eventually someone will figure out a good way to counter them. No one style ever really kills a game and I can never remember any example of something so unstoppable that it could not be countered somehow.

    I normally just follow the EPL and French leagues, but on the few occasions when I have had the opportunity to watch UEFAlona matches I am astounded at how BORING they are. Unless Messi just totally gets loose and does some inhuman stuff, I find myself mentally getting lulled to sleep.

    I tuned in for the last Classico of the season and it was just DREADFUL to watch. Messi was doing nothing and you couldn’t get behind Madrid with Ronaldo being such an unspeakable pussy and flopping down onto the turf in pretended agony for seemingly 80% of the second half.

  8. I’d rather watch Spain play than the way England played this tournament, both boring but at least Spain know how to pass the ball 5 times in a row. In the game against Portugal, when Portugal at times was pressing high up on the pitch, Spain would pass out of danger from their own 16 yard box without difficulty….England would boot the ball upfield to the opposition CB. But then again, like many of you have said, its an induvidual preference on what you like…I personally always prefered the international game over the club game

    The opposition is at fault too, for example my Croatian team just sat back and watched them play when they well knew they needed to score. Same as France, they showed zero urgency in their match. Against France Spain basically only NEEDED to score one goal, as the French didn’t even bother attacking

  9. Wouldn’t it be nice if the England squad played with the pace they do in the premier league? What’s stoping them part from Roy? They had the chance to do so under Capello or Sven?

    I would prefer England played the way Spurs did during the first 4 months of the season. Just electric!

    1. I would like that too. I still see young English midfielders like Wilshere and Cleverley as answers to that.

  10. I appreciate your viewpoint, but as someone with a growing attachment to Stoke it cracks me up to read an article that basically complains about a team passing too much! 😉

    In the end, teams must play the style that suits their coach and their personnel. Asking Stoke to play like Swansea would only lead to automatic relegation for the Potters……and so forth and so on.

    Vive la différence!

  11. A bit off topic…. but I thought that the Italians had a great first match against Spain and they easily could have won it.

    Will they revert back to 3-5-2 since it worked so well for them in their first match against Spain?

    1. Not only Italy. Portugal stuffed them for 90 minutes and had Ronaldo had his shooting boots on (not choked) Spain would have gone out. And had a penalty been rightly given to Croatia, Spain would have not even made it out of their group. Boring, anal-retentive, and surviving by the skin of their teeth. They make traditional Italy look exhilarating.

  12. The Dutch system of “total football” in the seventies had eleven men behind the ball whenever the opposition had control. Exactly how Spain play today. When the Dutch were in possession they had ten men sweeping fwd into attack interchanging positions. They were exciting to watch. Spain has played most of the Euros without a dedicated striker and simply passed teams to death. Aside from their obvious technical brilliance their system is now tedious and simply resembles a training session.

    People are charged money to watch football. They attend because they want to be entertained. For most of the Spain games UEFA should have handed out refunds.

  13. TL;DR – Please allow me to spend 21 paragraphs on an EPL blog to tell you why I don’t like the possession oriented style of football used by Spain to win trophies. In the meantime, watch for England to go out in their first knockout game in two years as they boot it over the top and hope for Rooney’s hair plugs to catch up.

    “He who possesses the ball gets to score the goals.” – Some Spanish guy, as taught by a Dutchman

  14. I think UEFA should hand out refunds when England play. To say Spain are boring shows how ignorant some people are.

    Pete, do you really think Spain do not attack and try to score? You think they just keep the ball for the sake of keeping it with no end product in mind? Shows your ignorance, mate.

  15. Is it august yet because the sooner the EPL gets started again the better, international football in general for me is boring with the exceptions of one or two teams.

  16. I’ve been thinking this for years about Spain and Barcelona. Anyone who plays Fifa on the xbox knows that if someone played this wayed you’d turn off the box rather than let an opponent waste your time in this manner.

    Why are the media only picking up on this now?

  17. Love that photoshop effort.

    I’ve been thinking this for years about Spain and Barcelona. Anyone who plays Fifa on the xbox knows that if someone played this way you’d turn off the console rather than let an opponent waste your time passing it around at the back.

    Why are the media only picking up on this now?

  18. I thought the point of the game was to score goals and Spain aren’t scoring them. Playing a possession game has it’s time and place but shouldn’t start from minute 1 and continue to the end of the game from the start of the tournament. I get more entertainment watching MLS than watching Spain play because they are trying to score.

  19. I wonder why the title of the piece was changed. The original title should be kept to keep the responses in perspective. Bad editorial judgement in my opinion.

  20. Matt Stanger at F365 wrote an excellent article taking the counter opinion to this post a couple of days ago. I highly recommend it.

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