Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez were the dangermen highlighted prior to the game, and to little surprise, proved themselves to be talismanic figures for their country. Similarly, the Netherlands used the experience of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben dangerously against La Roja, whereas Spain’s key figures failed to travel to Brazil. Iker Casillas, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Gerard Pique, Fernando Torres and Sergio Ramos have all endured horror shows this week and again failed to stand up when the odds were against them. After three trophies at international level, this squad had no option but to fight back, but instead drooped collectively like a defeated fighter. Where has their character gone? The Confederations Cup defeat was supposed to be their wake-up call but it just sapped the belief from the squad. Brazil didn’t welcome the champions from 2010, the champions failed to show. A dismal end of an era.
In years gone by, Spain have played a pressing, energetic, sleek system, but abandoned their philosophy this tournament. Conversely, those same superlatives can be attributed to hugely impressive Chile team seen at the Maracana on Wednesday evening. The two teams may prefer their own versions of the beautiful game but one performed their duties far better than the other. Spain looked sapped of their energy, not only in this game but against the Netherlands too, sluggish and too eager to play direct, impatient football. Their swagger has disintegrated and the arrogance shown by their players now resembles a team of pretenders rather than champions. As for Chile, they are relishing being the underdogs in a sense – the dark horses. There is pleasing confidence in their ability and belief, a major trademark of Spanish teams gone by. Chile want to impress this year and are able to back it up with genuine talents like Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Gary Medel and Claudio Bravo.
Many have been proclaiming the success of tiki-taka to be at an end after Spain and Barcelona’s recent failures. If we have learnt anything from the 2014 version of Spain, it is that the stereotype of beautiful football and precise dominance of possession is a highly complementary way to talk of Vicente del Bosque’s current team. The way Spain played this year was nothing short of abysmal, but the tactics were very unusual of a side that had been the kings of playing with the ball. Spain played direct balls forwards to Diego Costa – a tactic that evidently failed to come off. The real crime is persisting with it after the Netherlands game. After such a bad performance, Spain should have reverted back to their familiar way of playing. Their strikerless formation worked and keeping the ball had won them three trophies in six years. Players such as Xavi, Alonso and maybe one or two more could retire now which will surely herald the end of Spain’s golden era. But in the inquisition which will undoubtedly follow, the revival of tiki-taka has to be revived if Spain are to return stronger.
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