Fri, May 23, 2014 - Page 18 News List

Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ not dead just yet


VfL Wolfsburg’s Ivica Olic controls the ball against SC Freiburg in their Bundesliga match at the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg, Germany, on April 26.

Photo: EPA

Having won the last three major international tournaments, it is worth wondering if reigning champions Spain might finally come a cropper at next month’s FIFA World Cup.

Their remarkable run of success simply has to come to an end eventually and there are concerns that their style of soccer — epitomized by the aging Xavi Hernandez — is already outdated.

Spain followed the Barcelona way of playing to win the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. In the latter tournament, they ultimately triumphed in style, destroying Italy 4-0 in the final, but the sterile way in which they dominated earlier matches led many to label Vicente del Bosque’s side boring.

Even if was not always thrilling, it was effective, but the two years since have witnessed the decline of the Pep Guardiola empire at Barcelona.

The Catalans’ possession-based game, popularly known as “tiki-taka,” was made to look utterly one-dimensional as they were taken apart by Bayern Munich, all power and fast transitions from defense to attack, in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 2012-2013.

Fast forward a year and Bayern, with Guardiola in charge, were playing the tiki-taka and being torn apart on the counterattack by Real Madrid at the same stage. Recently, as a result, it has become popular to mourn the death of the style.

Alternative ways of playing have emerged at club level. Borussia Dortmund’s high-octane counterpressing game took them to the 2012-2013 Champions League final, while Atletico Madrid have achieved extraordinary success with a 4-4-2 formation centered around defensive discipline, midfield industry and the brute attacking force of Diego Costa.

Jose Mourinho has taken things to extremes at times. His approach is often that if you willingly renounce possession you will make fewer mistakes and therefore win the game.

However, to say that tiki-taka is dead is to jump to conclusions. After all, until 2011, Guardiola’s Barcelona mixed their mesmerizing short passing with a crucial element — a high-energy pressing game — and Guardiola’s Bayern won the double in Germany this season.

Tiki-taka can still succeed if played at the right tempo and Spain are set to maintain the faith in a style that has served them so well previously.

“Why would we change? We’ve done very well with this style. There’s no need to change it,” midfielder David Silva told British newspaper the Independent.

There are different ways to win matches, though, and all are valid. Playing with two forwards has become less commonplace in the last decade, while both the 4-2-3-1 and Barcelona’s classic 4-3-3 with one central forward, or perhaps a false nine, will be prominent in Brazil.

Nevertheless, several Central and South American sides will play with two strikers, including Uruguay and Chile.

The four-man defense will remain de rigueur, even if Mexico should favor a back five and Louis van Gaal has admitted that the loss of midfielder Kevin Strootman to injury could see the Netherlands abandon their 4-3-3 for a 5-3-2.

Van Gaal’s seemingly last-minute change in policy is all the more remarkable given that modern World Cups tend to be characterized by the desire not to take risks.

The first FIFA World Cup Technical Study, of the 1966 finals in England, noted that “emphasis on defensive strength in team play is spreading throughout world football,” because “team coaches in modern competition cannot afford to lose.”

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