World Cup – Cracking the Winning Formula
Germany won the World Cup in 2014 and created history. Not only did they become the first European country to win it on Latin American soil, they also marked the third successive European victory at the world stage after Italy in 2006 and Spain in 2010. But each of these three World Cup winning teams had a very unique approach to the game. From a sturdy defensive organization, to relentless passing to unambiguous direct approach – the three embodied as diverse a genre of football as one can think of. Let us now look deeper to recollect how these champion teams actually conquered the world. After last edition featuring Italy’s win in 2006, it’s time now to look into Spanish victory in 2010.
V for Victory
Spain reigned the World football for four years from 2008 to 2012 and won everything what was there to be won. Two European honours in 2008 and 2012, one Mediterranean games Gold medal in 2009, Laureus World Sports Award for Team of the Year in 2013 (competing on a global sports platform) – but the greatest moment came when they clinched the World Cup in 2010. It was a trophy they should have won long back, considering the club level success the Spanish teams had for the years. But Spain failed to perform as a team. As Iker Casillas of Real Madrid and Xavi of Barcelona took matters into their own hands to unite the Spanish squad, they eventually went on to become one of the most successful teams in the history of football. Barring some brief periods – beaten twice by Brazil and once by Netherlands – Spain topped the FIFA national team ranking from mid-2008 to mid-2014 for six long years, also being declared the FIFA Team of the Year every year between 2008 and 2013.
Spanish domination was based on eye-catching quick-passing football – the tiki taka style, which captivated the whole world. There were some criticisms at the lack of verticality in their play. Teams have sometimes been able to park the bus effectively as Spain were shocked by their 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in the first group match of World Cup 2010. But these occurrences have been few and far between. Vincente del Bosque was blessed with a team of highly talented individuals and he put together a system to maximize the creativity of his countless midfielders. Six Spanish players, and del Bosque himself were eventually selected in the FIFA team of the tournament. Spain had Casillas in the goal, Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol as the centre-back pairing flanked by Joan Capdevila and Sergio Ramos. One of the most popular aspects of that World Cup was teams using a midfield double pivot – Spain also joined the pool. Sergio Busquets sat the deepest and Xabi Alonso played as the “Quarter Back” to control possession and dictate the tempo of the game. Xavi Hernandez played in a more advanced role with much more freedom to complete the midfield triangle and connect with the forward players. The front man at the start of the tournament was Fernando Torres with David Villa playing a supporting striker-cum-left wide forward role and Andrés Iniesta deployed in a free role towards the left. As Torres failed to find the net and impact the matches he played, del Bosque was forced to use Villa in the central role and introduce Pedro in the wings towards the end of the World Cup. And Cesc Fàbregas was often used as a super sub who would often have significant contributions – none so important than providing the assist for the winner in the final.
Spain clearly benefitted when Villa led the line
One of the defensive midfielders, maybe Busquets, could have been dropped against teams who did not throw numbers in attack. But del Bosque did not want to jeopardize his shape and that explains Spain’s four consecutive 1-0 wins in the knockout stages.
But when did the goals come? Fabregas, a more attacking midfielder, who was sometimes playing in the false 9 role, replaced midfield anchorman Alonso against Paraguay in the quarter final in the 75th minute and against Netherlands in the final in the 87th minute when the score at 0-0 in both the matches. The winners came, respectively, in the 83rd minute and in the 116th minute in those two must-win games.
To give credit where it is due, Spain were comfortable defending the odd goal they would go on to score. They scored only eight goals in seven matches – five of them coming from joint top scorer of the tournament, Villa, but on the other end, conceded only two – that too once in each of their opening two matches. Casillas won the Golden Glove mainly because La Roja was extremely confident with the ball at their feet and could comfortably see a game out while leading.
Much of Spain’s success at this World Cup was due to the towering performance of midfield maestro Xavi. Arguably the best central midfielder at that time, Xavi, in association with Iniesta towards the latter stages of the game when he regained full match fitness, put up a show which simply was not worth anything less than the World Cup. His passing range, creativity, positioning and game reading were unparalleled and he was involved in practically every attack Spain managed to string in. It was not surprising that he got three – and Iniesta two – Man of the Match awards in the World Cup 2010.
Spain deservedly won the World Cup. Spain did not only play well, they played it fair too – and they were rewarded with the FIFA fair play award. There would be never-ending debate on whether tiki taka was the purest form of team football or it was merely passing the ball sideways innumerable times without having an output (read goal). But people would prefer a good old end to end contest any day. What matters is, Spain used it to their advantage for half a decade like none other managed to.