Following Spain’s 1-0 defeat to an extremely defensively-oriented Switzerland side in their opening group game, questions were raised as to the ability of Vicente Del Bosque’s team to effectively break down opposition that put all eleven men behind the ball and are happy to sit deep without possession.
That defeat in Durban caused a mini crisis of confidence in the style of play that has come to be known as “tiki-taka”, a real fear that teams bent on stifling the Spanish through adopting an almost wholly negative approach would destroy the rhythm of La Furia Roja to the point of their style having to be re-assessed. Tonight’s game, however, seems to have gone some way to easing those worries.
This Iberian derby was billed as a clash between two of the tournament’s most expressive sides, the quick pass-and-move of Spain against the attacking flair of Portugal, but that was hardly how the game panned out. Carlos Queiroz’s team were clearly set up to defend deep and spoil, Cristiano Ronaldo increasingly isolated as the only man up-field as the match progressed.
Faced with what was, particularly during the second half, a bank of four and another bank of five from the Portuguese, Spain didn’t panic with the ball, keeping their patience and demonstrating a great assurance and positivity. Enjoying over 60% possession throughout the game, Del Bosque’s players refused to be shaken out of their stride and were more willing to spread the ball wide and utilise David Villa and Andres Iniesta than they had been against Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team.
A 1-0 scoreline may not suggest an impressive Spanish performance, but this victory rarely looked in doubt and will ease many of the concerns that had been raised by the media following a slightly unconvincing passage through the group stage. Spain can take great confidence from this game as they progress to face Paraguay in the quarter-finals, the reputation of “tiki-taka” restored after a fleeting moment of doubt in the public consciousness.