It all started with a victory in the Euro 2008, then came a World Cup in 2010, and then another European Championship in 2012. The Spanish soccer team’s number one FIFA ranking in the world has been even more impressive throughout the last six years. Unfortunately for Spain, after this World Cup in Brazil, they won’t retain their status as reigning World Cup Champs and that FIFA ranking won’t stay for long either.
Although these judgments seemed premature after Spain’s 5-1 loss to the Netherlands, their 2-0 loss to Chile only validated this belief. Spain’s outing from this year’s World Cup is the earliest a reigning champion has been eliminated from contention. Many predicted them to win at all or at least make it to the knockout round. However, if they lose to Australia, they will come in dead last in their group. Granted the fact that their group is a difficult one, this is still a shocking blow for a team that has dominated the international landscape of soccer for the past six years.
There is a growing argument for Spain (2008-2014) being considered the greatest team in the history of international soccer. That’s a lot to swallow, but those who believe that have a point. After Spain lost to France in the ’06 World Cup, they won 10 consecutive knockout games without conceding a single goal. No team in history has won three consecutive major tournaments like Spain had in ’08, ’10, and ’12. Brazil was pretty close in the middle of the 20th century when they took three of four World Cups from 1958 to 1970. This feat seems impressive, but the overall roster was not nearly as impressive as the Spanish one. If Pele was injured, which happened for part of the 1966 World Cup run, the team would fall a part. West Germany was the closest to winning three in a row when they captured the Euro cup in 1972 and the World Cup in 1974, but failed to hoist the trophy after falling in the finals of Euro ’76. There is something special about this Spanish team.
It all starts with the roster. Sure, the “tiki-taka” approach by the coaching staff to constantly keep possession of the ball was impressive, but without the individual talent the team could have never prospered. Any roster that includes legends such as Sergio Ramos, David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, David Villa, and of course goalkeeper Iker Casillas will undoubtedly produce extraordinary results. There are so many names that have contributed to the brilliance of the team. Their egos never got in the way and their ability to complement each other’s skills made the team function smoothly. Sadly, that’s history.
The end of the glorious Spanish Era is certainly in sight for a few reasons. First, I don’t believe that any team in sports can keep that same dedication and will to win after so many years of dominance. Of course there are exceptions such as the Boston Celtics of the 1960s, but that’s extremely rare to find. It’s amazing that Spain’s excellence has endured for this long already. The inherent nature of sports is to become complacent and lose focus after a prolonged period of supremacy.
Second, those aforementioned great players can only stay young for so long. All of those players listed above are in their 30s except Fabregas, Ramos, and David Silva. There are young players who have great promise as well on the roster, but it’s just not the same. The same core that won so much together cannot stay together forever and that’s a difficult realization for Spanish fans everywhere.
Third, the tiki-taka approach to playing soccer may be overdone. The entire premise of the strategy is to maintain possession as much as possible to give themselves as many opportunities to score as possible. This also gives less time for their opponents to advance the ball. Spain does not also blowout their opponents too often and are content with maintaining a one or two goal lead. They don’t compromise their backline to score more. Keeping possession away from their opponents by passing amongst the midfield and defense is of priority. The same game plan cannot be successful for too long though. Eventually, opponents will catch on. Other teams have begun to decrease the spacing between the Spaniards and this is part of the reason why the tiki-taka has become less successful over time.
Fourth, Spain may have just been a bit unlucky. Group B was certainly more difficult than at least four other groups in the tournament. But again, as the best, that shouldn’t be a factor. In their matches with the Netherlands and Chile, there were a few missed chances that could have changed the tide of the matches and shifted the momentum in Spain’s favor. That’s the nature of the game though. Still, I do not believe anybody should feel pity for Spain as they have had their fair share of luck over the last half-decade.
It’ll be difficult to find another team in the near future that can surpass or even duplicate the accomplishments of this Spanish soccer team. But for now, the end of a dynasty has arrived and we should consider ourselves lucky to have watched this once in a generational unit play.
Pics and Stats from ESPN