The Confederations Cup final between Spain and Brazil was a highly anticipated clash of two opposing brands of football. In fact, while Spain are well known for playing a possession based style of football, Luis Felipe Scolari has reshaped a traditionally flamboyant Brazilian side into a more defensive minded, counterattacking team.
Brazil’s attack was based around trying to get the ball to their most aggressive attacking quarter of Hulk, Neymar, Oscar and Fred as soon as possible. All of these players are able of carrying the ball at high speed, which was crucial for Brazil, given their desire to play on the counter. Playing the match at a very high tempo denied Spain the time to establish control of the ball and get their attacking flow. “In the first half hour, they were all over us, they were physical, they were intense, we couldn’t bring the ball out of the back the way we wanted,” said Sergio Ramos. “They chased us all over the pitch, they weren’t afraid to be physical and get stuck in and it broke our rhythm,” added Spain head coach Vicente Del Bosque.
Is tiki-taka still the winning formula?
In recent years, a short-passing, tiki-taka based style ofplay has seemed to be the only way to win and play entertaining football. Such a style has grown in prominence with the massive success of the Spanish national team as well as the relative dominance of FC Barcelona both in Spain and in Europe in recent seasons.
Newly appointed South Korea head coach Hong Myung-bo correctly pointed out: “as possession football has gained popularity of late, there has been a tendency to overlook the importance of speed.” Few top teams embraced the need for speed with most sides trying to emulate the tika-taka style that has become synonymous with success.
Italy, a footballing giant who have won four World Cups playing a high intensity brand of football which focused around the counter attack neglected their traditional style and have adopted more of a Spanish ball retention model under Cesare Prandelli. Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho stayed away from tiki-taka, favouring a more direct approach, but that was a relative rarity.
One interesting point of note this season was how FC Barcelona struggled against an incredibly high intensity FC Bayern Munich side in the semi-finals of the Champions League. The German and now European Champions were incredibly organized at the back, won the ball and the sprung into attack by utilizing the speed of their wide players which caused Barcelona all sorts of problems as they crashed out 7-0 on aggregate. The use of speed and intensity from Munich was certainly too much for a Barcelona side who struggled to rise to the occasion.
Brazil’s approach took advantage of Spain’s lack of shape. But while Italy enjoyed success against Spain winning the ball in midfield, Scolari’s side were less cautious as they faced Del Bosque’s team inside their own half. Pressing high up which in turn could leave you vulnerable to a fast-break. But if your team is pressing in an organized manner and at high speed, it’s hard for the opponents to get the ball past your high defensive line.
Having players tired and with this kind of humidity, some coaches, like Prandelli did, ask heir team to remain compact in their own half to force counterattacking football. Many sides, full of European-based players, will probably come into Brazil next summer exhausted after a long season. That could made them unable to deal the speed of the game that more fresh sides could put on the field.
More technical teams could struggle against weakened but better shaped sides. Tiki-taka teams could find troubles against other sides starting pressing them high up and then playing counter-attacking football. So Asian teams, for example, could enjoy success increasing speed and stamina. Strong defense and quick counterattacks can yet lead underdog nations to victories. But then, Spain too were effective when they was able to maximize their speed near to the opponents’ penalty boxes. Quick one-two passes between Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi near to the penalty area made Barcelona great. What does this mean? Is tiki-taka dead? Not at all. But speed and intensity are ever increasing in their importance and must not be overlooked.