Spanish soccer team pose for a picture before their Euro 2012 quarter-final soccer match against France at Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 23, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Charles Platiau)
Entering their semi-finals match against Portugal, Spain will face a test it has not faced to this point. They face a team that has been playing extremely well and a juggernaut in Cristiano Ronaldo who is not only playing his best ever matches, but is playing with the confidence of a champion.
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However, Spain has no reason to worry about losing this match. Here are a few reasons why.
Experience and Knowing How to Win
Spain is the Defending World and Euro Cup Champion. They have been there and done it, not once, but twice. They have overcome all obstacles, criticism, and questions about their style of play, rumors of locker room drama, etc. The team has ignored all of the extra-curricular activity (unlike the Dutch) and put together a winning team that knows how to win and when to win. They have made a science out of winning and they are the masters of its laws. They may have more pressure heading into the game, but this is certainly not the most pressure they have ever felt before. And during those circumstances where the pressure seemed insurmountable, like the 2008 Euro Cup Final and 2010 World Cup Final, this team found ways to win.
Finally and most importantly Spain wins most matches late because they outlast opponents. They aren't scared of the late stages of the game. In fact as the game wears on 0-0, the results favor Spain.
Spain's passing style has come under fire as boring and predicable. The team passes the ball around and looks for an opening into opponent's box before setting up the perfect scoring opportunity. The pace is slow and calculated, almost too cerebral for the typical fan looking for exciting races and runs up and down the field and dramatic opportunities. Spain instead hones it in and lulls everyone, including their opponents to sleep.
More importantly, Tiki Taka breaks down opponents mentally and physically. Opponents are often relegated to sitting back and watching the play OR running after the ball aimlessly to the point of fatigue. Over the course of 90 minutes, the strategy wears down opponents and forces them into mistakes. Meanwhile Spain stays fit, relaxed, calm and ready for that opening to score and win.
Tiki Taka also falls under that old cliché that the best defense is a good offense. Spain has only given up one goal in the Euro Cup 2012; the fewest among all teams in the tournament. Additionally, they have shutout teams in eight consecutive knockout round games. The last time they gave up a goal in a knockout round of a Euro Cup or World Cup was in 2006.
The interesting thing is that Tiki Taka also has an effect on all teams Spain plays that none would like to admit: It forces other teams to change their style of play. Look at France. A possession based team through the group stage, they changed their formation to be more defensive and sat back and waited. Look at Germany in 2010. The most potent offense in the entire tournament and they simply sat back and watched Spain pass circles around them instead of imposing their aggressive possession first style. No team has really figured how to break up this style of play; they only think they do. For the last four years, only a handful of teams have been successful.
Spain will impose this style on Portugal, who will be aggressive. Portugal was successful at attacking the Dutch Possession game, but Netherlands liked the upbeat style as well. Portugal depends on fast play and if Spain slows them down, their counterattack will be largely ineffective. If Portugal gets the ball, it will likely be a one and done chance as Spain will quickly reclaim the ball and slow down the match. If Portugal cannot score early, their increasing fatigue will give Spain the upper hand in later stages of the match.
Depth and Tactical Mastery
Spain has been called one dimensional, and yet they employ the greatest wealth of talent on the bench. Their starting lineup is loading with superstars at every position and they even have a few stars waiting for game time on the bench.
Jesus Navas, Pedro, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas have been some of the main substitutes that Spain has brought on in big game time situations.
Vicente del Bosque has an endless book of strategies at his disposal for any circumstance. In this tournament he has resorted to two different formations to fit the circumstances. He started without a striker in his formation due to the absence of David Villa. When he was not getting the results he wanted with this formation, he brought in striker Fernando Torres to take care of business. In the following match against Ireland, he stuck with the striker formation and won big. When that formation seemed too easy for Croatia, he changed it up and won. If del Bosque has not altered his lineups every match, it is simply because he never has to; the team is almost always guaranteed win no matter what.
Portugal does not have the same level of depth in their starting lineup, much less off the bench. Because of Spain's depth, the Spaniards will not only dictate the pace, but also how Portugal must reconfigure. Portugal doesn't have the depth to accommodate all of the potential Spanish threats.
Disagree? Read the Counterargument for a Portuguese Victory HERE.