As Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aranguiz found the back of the Spanish net once each at the Maracana on the bright afternoon of 18 June, Chile advanced to the round of 16 with a game to spare. In the minds of the followers of the beautiful game, however, what stood out stronger than the jubilation of the South Americans was the end of an era. The 6-year long rule of the Spanish Armada had ended. Spain had now also earned the ignominy of being defending champions knocked out in the first round, with only Italy (in 1950 and 2010), Brazil (1966) and France (2002) for company. But what about the ingenious Spanish tiki-taka?
Before we venture to draw a conclusion over writing the epitaph of tiki-taka (or tiqui-taca, as spelt in Spanish), let’s go for a flashback. This innovative strategy of extended ball possession, short passes among the players and an attack that usually starts in your own half and gradually builds momentum as the players move with the ball towards the opponent’s goalpost isn’t very new actually. In fact, this strategy that stands contrary to the traditional concepts of tactical combinations like 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 has often been implemented in the past by La Albiceleste, the Argentine national team. The Dutch legend and former Barcelona superstar, Johann Cruyff had also incorporated a similar style during his stint as manager of Barcelona. The onomatopoeic term, however, evolved much later in colloquial usage in Spanish football as a bunch of rising stars like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso started being characterized by this style under coaches like Pep Guardiola, among others.
Tiki-taka involved an excellent vision, alertness, accurate passing and above all, maintaining maximum possession. An excellent midfield containing the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas had then allowed Spain to reap full benefits of tiki-taka. This ingenious form of football had brought Los Rojos to the top of the world as they became back-to-back Euro champions in 2008 and 2012 and attained crown glory by winning the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
The Spanish team’s tactical play was gradually on the decline with the eroding precision of Spainand penetration skills in their midfield. This was proven by their 0-3 loss to Brazil in the final of the Confederation Cup last year. The Brazil 2014 World Cup has seen that decline turn into a debacle for Spanish tiki-taka. If conceding 5 goals to Netherlands in their opening game weren’t enough, their 0-2 loss to Chile has completed the destruction of the Spanish Armada. The 3-0 victory against Australia in final Group B match might have salvaged some of the prestige for the defending world champions, but for now the Spanish signature in the beautiful game has been omitted. Whether tiki-taka will be revived in the near or distant future, only time will tell.