Well La Roja de España just lost to La Roja de Chile 2-0 eliminating the reigning world champs from the World Cup. This followed a shocking 5-1 loss to Holland (the 2010 runner’s up). I have always loved soccer/ football* and have watched/played it all my life. The first half of the Holland game will be remembered as the last gasp of the greatest National team I have ever seen play the game. Like the 2010 Barca–the best club team I have ever seen–Spain didn’t just win games they simply owned them. Tiki-taka, the game of possession they pioneered was not only beautiful, but it was the game at it’s absolute best. Total possession, every touch a pass. Every player mattered.
2008 Euro Cup, 2010 World Cup, 2012 Euro Cup. And we might as well mention the 2013 runner’s up in the Federation Cup where they lost to the favored home team Brazil in the final. I have never seen a team so dominate the sport. The other teams simply watched tick-taka and hoped for a lucky break. What I didn’t realize until this latest world cup was how important the defense was to the strategy. Losing Puyol, the beating heart of the defense, I think was major setback. Although they had played well several times before without him, he provided so much energy which was what they were critically missing.
(Youtube is littered with these amazing videos).
The other factor I didn’t realize is simply the energy level required to maintain tiki-taka. It takes a lot of physical and mental energy to one touch everything always looking for the open guy. For a team with an average age approaching the mid 30’s they just couldn’t maintain. As things fell apart, the team crumpled. The errors that Alonso, Ramos, Pique, and most famously Casillas made all seemed to stem from exhaustion. Here in Spain they have taking to blaming all the new babies the team has–and of course their beautiful new wives. As a 30 something guy with a baby on the way I can understand. But after watching these players a few weeks ago in the European Champion’s league championship (Real Madrid vs. Athelitco Madrid) they seemed just tired. They still had moments of brilliance.
But no matter what happens now to the team–and the strong independent movements in Spain don’t particularly bode well for the future–La Roja 2008-2012 will always be the team I measure future football squads by. They were the best I ever saw.
John Cassidy wrote a much better eulogy today in the New Yorker, you should read it.
Also there is a new king in Spain today.
(And of course, FIFA is completely corrupt and frankly terrible, and the world could do worse if this was the last world cup…
The word “Soccer” is strangely a British import.