In every story, there is an end. Some are happy. Some are sad. Some ends are sudden. And some are a long time coming. If last week’s loss to the Netherlands was the beginning of the end for Spanish football, today’s defeat to Chile was the final period. Spain will go on playing soccer. In fact, they even get to play another game in Brazil. But things will never quite be the same for Vicente del Bosque’s historic Spanish side of the last six years.
Maybe it was arrogance, or maybe it was simply having played too many games over the last few years, but Spain was not ready to take punches from the Netherlands and from Chile. Everything went wrong. Stars so long admired for their ability to win at all costs seemed to give up. Gone was the ability to create chances. Gone was the determination to overcome the adversity. And gone were the Spaniards. As ESPN analyst Steve McManaman said in the immediate aftermath of Spain’s exit, “They deserve to be going home.”
It’s hard to believe that tiki-taka is done. But it seems the world has figured out how to defend it. Barcelona struggled all year with it, and now this. Will this signal a return to more barbarian styles of play? Or will a young manager come up with a new world-beating tactic? On this day, Chile’s decision to press high up the field looked ingenious. They allowed Spain time on the ball, but held firm when they needed to. When they got on the ball, they immediately countered, and sent runners into the box. Alexis Sanchez looked twice the player he often is at Barcelona among the inspired Chileans today.
Many people, including me, called for changes to be made in the Spanish side before today’s game. Somebody had to provide a spark. But del Bosque only made two changes. The tactics largely stayed the same, and the result was much the same. It was as if he wanted to go down with his boat. The ship was sinking, and instead of jumping on a lifeboat and fighting for survival, he stuck with his men and watched it go down. A 0-0 draw could have kept the Spanish alive, but they never would have played for that. They are too proud to abandon what has marked them over the years, and in many ways, that is admirable.
It will be healthy for these players to get some rest now. Finally, they will be able to have a summer off. Barcelona could be back to their best next year with a rested Spanish contingent. But you can bet that Spain will look to the younger generation to fill many of the old guard’s spaces after this summer. The Spanish side that begins Euro 2016 qualifying might be entirely unrecognizable.
But like all stories, the overall message is about so much more than just the ending. Is How I Met Your Mother a bad show just because the ending was terribly disappointing? Absolutely not. Ultimately, it’s the highs that should be remembered. And this Spanish team had some unbelievable highs. They should go down as one of the best national team sides of all team. They changed the way soccer was played, ushering in an exciting era of tiki-taka unlike anything seen before.
As they depart Brazil, they leave behind that legacy of tiki-taka. It may have diminishing returns now, but for many years, the revolutionary style was almost unbeatable. Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and company should hold their heads high. Their story with Spain has come to an end. But the incredible story of how this side changed the way the game is played is one to be celebrated.