There were 1,063 total passes, 988 of them accurate, 63% of ball possession, 29 attempts at crosses and only 2 accurate shots on goal. But the most important figure in Spain’s elimination against Morocco is another one, reflected on the scoreboard at Estádio da Educação: 0 goals.
A zero that reflects the lack of artillery of a team that dominates all its games, but that showed in Qatar that it has difficulty transforming ball possession into goals. It is no coincidence that Luiz Henrique discussed it at a press conference and most players walked by with frowning faces as if it were a funeral. “We are fucked, sad. Losing on penalties is shit”, defined the defender Llorente, dry, hard, summarizing a feeling only translated by profanity.
Spain leaves the World Cup with the record for the most accurate passes in a match (1,003, in the 7-0 against Costa Rica), but the third premature elimination raises the debate about the end of the game model that made Furia the greatest force in the world. world football between 2008 and 2012: the “tiki taka”.
Enshrined by Luis Aragonés and Vicente del Bosque in the national team — while it was also the basis of Barcelona’s game, with Pep Guardiola — the style had some non-negotiable pillars: a lot of ball possession, hundreds of passes in midfield and triangulations to find spaces in the defense. opposing defence. All with extreme patience and no shame in touching the ball to the side, if necessary.
Tactically, the teams that consecrated this way of playing had similar systems: a 4-3-3, with two midfielders (the so-called “insiders”) who were the ones who moved the team from one side to the other with the passes. In super champion Spain and Barcelona, the two were Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta. In the selection that fell on penalties against Morocco, the task was in the hands of Pedri and Gavi.
The similarities in style and the fact that they all appeared at Barcelona make for an obvious comparison. It’s normal to think of Pedri, 20, and Gavi, 18, as a sort of 2.0 version of the previous duo. The premature fall in Qatar shows that it is still too early to draw parallels.
At the Catalan club, the two youngsters already occupy a position that their idols took longer to reach. Pedri has been a starter and idol since he was 18 years old, he already has 93 matches, with 12 goals scored. Gavi has broken precocity records for club and country since he was 17 and has played 66 matches, scoring twice. Both have already won the Kopa Young Player of the Year Award in the last two seasons.
At this point, the comparison with the two leaders of the previous generation favors the younger ones. Xavi only became undisputed at Barcelona at the age of 27 and reached the World Cup in South Africa at the age of 30; Iniesta gained space at the age of 23, after Frenchman Ludovic Giuly left the club, and was world champion at 26.
While the Spanish press and fans look for culprits and think about the future, one of the few certainties is that Pedri and Gavi will be important in the renewal process. The Spanish team that fell to Morocco had 20 players debuting in World Cups and an average age of 26 years (the fourth lowest in the tournament).
“For many of us, it was the first Cup. And we lived up to it, we competed well in every game, regardless of the result. Now it’s time to rest for a few days, get back to working with the club and when I get back to the national team, work more”, he said. Ferran Torres, 22, another Barcelona player in the national team.
A new system?
It’s been 12 years since the world title won in South Africa; a decade since the last title of the selection, Eurocopa-12; and seven seasons since Barcelona, led by Luis Enrique, Spain’s coach in Qatar, last won the Champions League.
The “tiki taka” was already a picture on the wall in 2018, when Spain arrived in Russia trying to erase the bad image of 2014, when the selection fell in the group stage. After losing coach Julen Lopetegui the day before the debut and suffering to advance to the round of 16, “La Roja” was eliminated by the Russians, on penalties, in the first knockout phase.
There, many people killed and buried the “tiki taka”. The choice of Luis Enrique as coach gave a second chance to the style of play that changed Spain. But this Tuesday (6), the system failed once again. “We are proud because we followed our idea until death, the team worked together, gave everything they had”, said defender Marcos Llorente after the elimination.
The new cycle will begin, once again, with an open debate about the game system. Barcelona, who provided eight players to the squad in this World Cup, should continue to be the base of the selections.
The question is whether the Catalan club will also continue to inspire the way of playing: the team, now led by Xavi, retains characteristics of the Spanish “tiki taka”, but fell for the second time in a row in the Champions League group stage.
The two alternative paths would, logically, be those used by the other two big clubs in the country: the quick transitions and verticality of Real Madrid or the more physical and defensive game of Atlético de Madrid. Neither of the two recipes make it into Luis Enrique’s playbook.
The coach of the new Spanish wreck in World Cups admitted all the blame for the defeat. “The players made 100% of the instructions I gave them. They followed 99.9%, because they wanted to score goals, and I wanted them to create chances. It’s over. We have to analyze this game calmly”, he said. Luiz Henrique does not seem to have understood that there was a system error: he saw Spain dominant and even argued with a journalist who criticized his team’s performance.