On days like today, it’s nice that ESPN’s talking head, straw man debate shows employ pundits who don’t give a lick about soccer. Otherwise we’d be subjugated to some really awful back-and-forth in the wake of Brazil’s 3-0 trouncing of Spain in the Confederations Cup final Sunday in Rio.
Naturally, in the kneejerk, 140-character media world we live in, Spain’s fifth loss in a seven-year period mean that the era of Tiki-taka is dead, beaten and flushed down the nearest commode. Get it the hell out of my sight!
As poor as Spain looked – personified by Sergio Ramos’ laughable missed penalty kick in the second half – let’s consider some important points. For one, Brazil was excellent, namely via Neymar leading the attack. The 21-year-old is going to dominant the soccer news cycle in the next year leading up to the World Cup next June. It’s also impossible to discount the advantage Brazil had playing at home, too, especially since the players seemed galvanized by the political unrest that swept through the country during the Confederations Cup.
To underrate the performance by Brazil would be unfair. In this analytical world we live in, many like to handwave the “rah rah” aspect of sport. On Sunday, Brazil looked like they were capable of running through a brick wall for coach Felipe Scolari. It’s doubtful Brazil could repeat its opening 45 minute blitz on a game-to-game basis, but the potential is there and Scolari got it out of his players Sunday. Talk of Brazil’s demise as a world power was greatly exaggerated. Now it’s up to Neymar, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Paulinho & Co. to bottle up this intensity and carry it into next summer.
Beyond that, how many national teams aside from Brazil possess a front four with the chemistry of Neymar, Fred, Oscar and Hulk, which kept Spain on the back foot defensively all match? It is, however, remarkable that the man who may signal the end of Spanish dominance is a traditional, dumpy center forward like Fred.
Even so, the list of teams who have the horses, physicality and on-ball ability to handle Spain likely boils down to Brazil, Germany and maybe Italy if Mario Balotelli and Andrea Pirlo are at their best, or perhaps Argentina is Lionel Messi can play like he does for country like he does for club.
It should be noted when the United States beat Spain at the 2009 Confederations Cup it looked nothing like the dominant performance put on Sunday by Brazil. Yes, the American scored twice, but Spain had the ball most of the match only to be repelled by a dogged, dug-in U.S. defense every single time. Many teams have tried this approach, to play defensively and spring on the counter only to have Spain grind them to dust in the late stage of the match or to win in penalty kicks. Take nothing away from what Bob Bradley did four years ago in South Africa, but it didn’t form a blueprint how to defeat La Roja. Time will tell if Scolari’s gameplan will be used down the road to punish Spain as well.
And really let’s be honest, is it all that crazy, lo and behold, after five years the rest of the world might be finding ways to counter what Spain does via its short-passing system? Sooner or later all dominating systems for any sport are figured out. Even if opponents have indeed made strides on breaking down Tika-taka, it remains a difficult system to cope with more often than not. The Spanish system won’t need much of an overhaul, a simple tweak might work.
Time is probably catching up with some of the key orchestrators of Spain’s run, namely Xavi. The days when guys like Ramos think they can throw their boots on the field and expect to beat any opponent without breaking a sweat could be ending. Lest we forget, until the latter stages of extra time vs. Italy in the semifinals Spain looked ordinary and disinterested, as if even they’d grown tired of their own hype.
Gerard Pique’s dip in form seems to be something more temporary, not simply a blip. Spain’s overall lack of pace, especially with its forward attackers is something team’s have figured out how to cope with as well.
That said, Spain’s youth teams continue win trophies, most recently the UEFA u-21 event in Israel with a standout performance from recent Real Madrid signing Isco and (potenitally) Manchester Untied-bound Thiago Alcântara. The talent pipeline for Spain isn’t drying up, even if the window for its Golden Generation might close with the 2014 World Cup cycle. How Spain re-stocks the size moving into the future is something we’ll all be unable to answer until it happens.
After seven years its foolish to call an era over based on one 90 minute sample size, but to dismiss the warning signs would be equally unwise.
Previously: Fred Falls Down, Scores and Gives Brazil Quick Lead on Spain in Confederations Cup Final [Video]
Previously: Female Spain Fan Really Enjoyed Fernando Torres’ Goal vs. Tahiti [GIF]
Previously: Neymar Executed An Epic Flop and Pantomime Combo Against Mexico [GIF]
Previously: Neymar’s Goal Got the Confederations Cup Off to a Cracking Start [Video]