The Rise, Fall and Rise of Spain

How a rejuvenated Spanish National Team are finding form after the horror of Brazil 2014

This weekend sees domestic football take a back seat and in its place comes the Play-Off’s for next years European Championships. 24 teams will compete, with the tournament being extended from 16. Defending champions, Spain, have already made sure they will be on the plane to France next year; however there was much doubt if Spain would even get there after they crumbled at The World Cup last summer.

For years, Spain were very much considered a sleeping giant of international football, with their only success coming at the 1964 European Championships. With the country playing host to two of the biggest clubs in world football (Barcelona and Real Madrid), few could understand how the national side laboured never achieved real success until 2008.

The 2008 edition of the European Championships saw the birth of “tiki-taka” football. It is essentially quick passing and moving with limited opportunities for the opponent to regain possession. Luis Aragones’ side were 12th seed at the tournament in Austria/Switzerland and outclassed eventual Semi-finalists Russia 4-1 in the opening game. The new style of play had been used in the qualifiers of the “Euros” and it paid off as Sweden and Greece were beaten 2-1. Spain out possessed World Champions Italy in the Quarter-Finals and were forced to wait until penalties to progress to the Semi-Finals where they once again faced Russia. The same margin of victory occurred as Spain made it to their first ever major final with a 3-0 win.
In the final, they faced pre tournament favourites Germany and a nervy match needed a special player to come of age and that’s exactly what Fernando Torres did. The Liverpool striker was drafted in to lead his country to glory after talisman David Villa missed the final through injury and his 33rd minute goal was enough to give “La Roga” its first victory since 1964.

The following season saw Barcelona win the Champions League, implementing the same “Tiki-Taka” style that saw Spain succeed the previous year. Over the next 4 years Spain would dominate the domestic and international game. A large number of Barcelona’s dominant side were key figures in the national side, with Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Gerard Pique, David Villa, Carlos Puyol and Sergio Busquets all linking up with bitter rivals from Real Madrid to dominate the major international championships.

The 2010 World Cup saw Spain create history. Victory in the final against The Netherlands made Vincete Del Bosque’s side the first European team to win the World Cup outside of Europe. The Spanish enhanced their brand of football and showed their possession dominance once again as they only conceded 2 goals and scoring 8, which is a record low for a winning side.

During this period of domination, Spain built up a record equalling 35 match unbeaten streak. Their first defeat came in a shock 3-2 loss to the United States at the 2009 Confederations Cup. This unbeaten record lasted three years and included a 15 match winning streak.
The 2012 European Championships in Ukraine/Poland saw the Spanish once again revolutionise the way in which teams can play football. The “Tiki-Taka” style returned, but with it saw new tactics deployed by Vincete Del Bosque. Spain dominated the tournament, beating top sides like France and Portugal before facing Italy in the final. By this time, sides had thought they nearly figured out how to beat the Spaniards, but this time Spain opted for the now famous “False 9” formation. The formation allows more midfielders to flood the middle of the pitch and opts to not play with a natural striker. In the final Cesc Fabregas played in the attacking midfield position and helped his side outclass a usually sturdy Italy. The new way of playing football was too good for the Italians and Spain won 4-0, thus becoming the first team to ever retain the European Championship. Spain averaged 623 passes per match at the finals and enjoyed 60% possession per fixture. Critics called them boring and “ruined the enjoyment of the game”, but there was no question that Spain were the best team in the world.

The success over six years had taken its toll on the world champions and although much of the squad was retained for the 2014 World Cup, many of the players were aging. Questions were asked of Del Bosque with selection of his side and he put faith in the players that had brought the country success. Nevertheless many predicted that Spain would go all the way in Brazil and they were installed as favourites to become the first team to retain the World Cup. Those expectations were left in ruins in the opening match.

Salvador, Brazil: Netherlands 5-1 Spain. A repeat of the 2010 final saw Holland wipe the floor with Spain and the dreams of a nation were left in ruins. It was the most embarrassing night in Spanish football’s recent memory and evoked memories of past failings at major tournaments. The tournament’s surprise package, Chile cruised passed a lacklustre Spain in the second match and sent the World Champions home at the final hurdle. It had taken six years, but finally others had found a way to beat Spain. Little pride was restored in the final match as record scorer David Villa said goodbye to the fans as he retired from international football with a goal in his final match, as Spain became the fifth defending champions to be knocked out in the group stage.

Over a year has passed since the “horror show” in Brazil and Spain has slowly begun to repair the broken pieces. With nine wins out of ten in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, they are already going to France, A new look side is set to compete next year, but selection problems are evident throughout the side. La Roja are going for an unprecedented third European Championship in a row and will still be considered a favourite by many, but the element of doubt still lingers and asks the question: Can Spain recapture their past glories and once again revolutionise football?

Matt Findlay

Twiiter - @Matt_Findlay19