Spain opened up group play at the World Cup Friday against the Netherlands in a rematch of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final, which Spain won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Andres Iniesta late in extra time.
The Netherlands has certainly not forgotten that, and they let Spain know in the form of a 5-1 drubbing, Spain’s worst defeat at the World Cup since 1950.
Spain jumped out to the lead in the 27th minute when Xabi Alonso buried a penalty kick after Diego Costa was brought down in the box. However, the Netherlands rallied back with five unanswered goals to come away with the three points.
One area of focus about Spain was their patented “tiki-taka” style of play, which revolves around moving the ball around with short passes and taking more of a zone type of approach as opposed to formations. Spain was able to use this style of play to help them to consecutive European titles in 2008 and 2012, as well as the FIFA World Cup Championship in 2010.
However, teams are more aware of how to counter the “tiki-taka”, which can be done in several different ways. It’s almost like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in a way. In the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, few fighters knew about jiu-jitsu (except, of course, for the Gracie Family and other jiu-jitsu fighters). As a result, Royce Gracie absolutely dominated in the early days of UFC.
However, as more people became aware of it, it became less effective by itself and fighters needed to know other styles in addition to jiu-jitsu to be better fighters. tiki-taka is similar in that, although it is not anything new to soccer, teams are now more aware of it and aware of how to counter it.
That brings us back to Spain at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The stats don’t lie: Today’s loss was the worst loss by La Furia Roja in the World Cup in 63 years. It was about as bad as it could get for Spain. After entering as favorites to win their group, the Spanish now find themselves likely fighting for second place in the group, barring a terrible turn of events for the Netherlands.
Another side effect of tiki-taka is that Spain has not scored many goals due to the primarily passing style of play. Much like jiu-jitsu fighters have altered their game in recent years, Spain may have to alter its tiki-taka style of play and will have to become a more of a goal-scoring team. Although they defeated Italy in the Euro 2012 Final 4-0, Spain scored a total of four goals in group play and won each knock-out game, including the World Cup Final, 1-0.
After the today’s blowout loss to the Netherlands and Chile’s 3-1 win over Australia, it could very well come down to goal differential to decide who advances to the Round of 16.
There is a silver lining in what was otherwise an embarrassing day for Spanish soccer, add to the fact that it was the opening game of group play and there is still time to get it together. It will get better for Spain, but that has to start in their next match on June 18 against Chile.