Spain won the Euros in emphatic style, silencing an army of doubters who had labelled them boring and one-dimensional, and in doing so they may have set the tactical tone for years to come.
Throughout the tournament Spain demonstrated that Tiki-Taka has two distinct incarnations: the beautiful version exhibited against Italy, and then the efficient version where Spain stood accused of using possession to strangle the game of any life, particularly against Croatia and Portugal. Dominating possession as a form of defence is nothing new and is a tactic that will be deployed across Europe in the coming season. It’s fair to say that this isn’t the most entertaining form of the game; Action and Incident – the hallmarks of leagues like the EPL – are quashed in favour of simple ball retention.
The defensive side of Tiki-Taka is undoubtedly a technical game requiring a pristine first touch and near telepathic movement, but for the neutral it understandably pales into comparison when pitted against Germany’s cavalier style. For this exact reason, Germany became the people’s favourites but continually left gaps in their defence when they poured forward, often losing the ball far too easily. Germany could have made a case for a more direct and often therefore more exhilarating game, but their defensive frailties were far too easily exposed.
Spain were the epitome of flair and incisive passing in the final but their defensive record of one goal conceded in the entire tournament means that Del Bosque has built a side designed for knockout competitions. A team with a leaky defence is always liable to lose the odd vital game by pure misfortune, whereas a team like Spain who, when playing badly, can rely on their technical ability to choke a game by retaining the ball.
Formations are becoming much less rigid in the modern game with 4-5-1, 4-4-2, and 4-3-3 often having the same basic meaning. They are more of an indicator of the team’s outlook than an actual map of the player’s positions. Del Bosque’s 4-6-0 came under heavy criticism as the tournament began; in the eyes of many onlookers, ‘playing without a forward’ was surely Del Bosque’s way of confining the most talented team in the world in favour of a safety first approach. Maybe there is some truth in this view, but ultimately the 6 man Total Football midfield allowed Spain to move more freely than ever against Italy, with Jordi Alba’s surging run and goal from full back proving that players are harder to pick up when running from deep. The 4-6-0 took the now clichéd ‘floating number 9’ to another dimension.
Spain may never enjoy the adulation of the Brazil side of the 70s due to their propensity to ‘pass teams to death’, but they continue to produce era defining performances as they did against Italy, thereby treating us to some of the most entertaining football ever played. If Brazil were the meaning of outward exuberance and flair, Spain represent a far more subtle poetry.