The end of Tiki-taka??

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Going into the 2014 World Cup, Spain were amongst the favorites, being the current World and European Champions. The Spanish league is considered to be one of the strongest in the world, full of Spanish players coached by Spanish managers and the league receiving around €850 million a year. The 2014 Champions League final was an all Spanish affair, with Real Madrid beating their neighbours Athletico Madrid convincingly 4-1 in extra time. There were 9 goals scored in this years Semi Finals of the Champions League; 5 of which were scored by a Spaniard. In between the 2012 European Championships and this years competition, Diego Costa declared himself for Spain over Brazil, meaning that Spain added one of the most promising strikers in world football to its already talented attacking roster.

Even though Spain enjoyed this success, after just two games of the World Cup, Spain crashed out, having lost 5-1 to Holland and 2-0 to Chile. What went wrong?

Maybe the signs were already there. The style of football employed by Spain was not the same brand of football played by Real or Athletico Madrid. Spain as a whole was moving away from Tiki-Taka. The two most successful Spainsh teams this year, favoured a fast counter attacking style of football, well organised defense and pressing their opponents as soon as they got the ball. Even before this, Bayern Munich showed the world that Barcelona and Tiki-Taka could be beaten in the 2013 Champions League Semi Final. They won 7-0 on aggregate by pressing Barcelona and counter-attacking with explosive players like Ribery, Robben and Müller.

And then of course there is age. Xavi and Alonso came into this competition knowing that this may be their last international tournament. David Villa announced that this would be his last international tournament, and after his costly mistakes against Holland and Chile, Iker Casillas may have played his last game for not only Spain, but for Real Madrid too. The central defensive partnership of Pique and Ramos was shown up for what it was; two players who are very accomplished on the ball and a threat in the opposition box, but very poor in positional play. Although they are not yet 30, as their pace gradually leaves them, they will need to be able to read the game better, if their respective teams are unable to pass the ball at will and dominate possession.

A barely fit Diego Costa looked like he didn’t quite gel with the rest of his team. Having just declared for Spain and playing his club football at Athletico Madrid, he is not a product of Tiki-Taka football, and by playing him instead of Villa, Spain lost their proven ability through him to link their midfield with a presence in the box, who is willing to not only play with his towards the goal. In their 3-0 victory over Australia, Villa scored Spain’s first, and what was to be his final goal, no doubt leaving us all to speculate if Spain could have repeated World Cup success if he had started the first two games. Fernando Torres also scored but his future at Chelsea and for Spain looks to also be in doubt after disappointing since his £50million move to Chelsea in 2011. Players like David Silva, Iniesta and Juanfran will be in their 30’s by Euro 2016.

However, Spain have a host of talented youngsters waiting in the wings to take over. Players like De Gea, Tello, Isco, Koko, and Azpilicueta represent the next generation of Spanish football and are already playing at a high level at their respective clubs. Whether or not the can retain the European Championship in 2016 remains to be seen. They are developing in systems outside of the Tiki-Taka system, which is being mirrored by the signings of Spains top teams have been making. Barcelona have signed players like Neymar and Sanchez; players whos main strengths are running at their opponents, not passing around them in neat lines. Real Madrids trio of Ronaldo, Bale and Di Maria are unplayable at times. They possess pace, power, skill and vision to take on teams single-handedly at any given moment in a game.

Spains once solid unit has simply fallen apart. Adding Costa and the mistakes by Casillias, as well as other teams knowing how to play against Tiki-Taka, made obvious the fact that they started with no player who could carry a team on his back and take control of a game. In 2012, Spain played with a team the vast majority of whom came from Barcelona and Real Madrid. They knew each other inside out and played a team game which lead to comparisons with the Peles 70’s Brazil World Cup winning team. This year, with Athletic Madrid, both Manchester clubs and Chelsea ‘diluting’ their squad with different footballing styles, they needed someone to stand up and demand the ball. That is what Neymar is doing for Brazil. Robben for the Dutch. Messi for Argentina. Hazard for Belgium. They look for and demand the ball  because they know they don’t have a group of players who have been on the training pitch week after week with each other, who may not even like each other.

Spain proved over the last few years that there is no ‘I’ in team. So did Greece in Euro 2004. But now with Spain out, maybe like Ronaldo in World Cup 2006 or Zidane in 1998, someone will step up and show that although there is no ‘I’ in team, there definitely is an ‘I’ in win.

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Oh England…

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So England are officially out of the 2014 World Cup. Lost their first two games in the World Cup for the first time since 1958. 2 goals scored, 4 conceded. So much was hoped for from Sterling, Sturridge, Barkley and the rest. Sisappointment is a gross understatement when it comes to describing England’s World Cup campaign.

By Costa Rica first beating Uruguay (albeit without Suarez) and now Italy, they look like a tactically sound and hungry team – like Chile but without any star names. They must be regarded as the surprise team of the World Cup so far. Although they won’t all of a sudden be tournament favorites, it will be interesting to see how they perform against England. The English media will look at Costa Rican squad, the manner of their performances and demand an English victory. Only a convincing win will do. Speaking of England…

It’s almost as though the two senior members of the team couldn’t handle the pressure. So much was made of Rooney being in his prime and ready to show the world he is a world class player, but he failed to deliver. He was guilty of missing a few clear cut chances against Italy and Uruguay, chances that players like van Persie, Müller and Suarez would surely score. Speaking of Suarez…

England knew all about him. He terrorized the Premier League this season, had keyhole surgery at the end of the season and still managed to score twice against a shaky England defense. He stepped up where PSG’s £50million rated striker Cavani couldn’t. Maybe Costa Rica wouldn’t have beaten Uruguay if Suarez had featured in that game. A player of that quality demands attention at all times. His first goal showcased his movement while his second goal showed his mental sharpness and clinical finishing after Gerrards mistake led to his second goal. He has probably added a few million pounds to the fee that Real Madrid or Barcelona are reported to be thinking of bidding. Speaking of Gerrard…

This tournament is probably the last time we will see Gerrard in an England shirt. His misjudgment of the header on thursday night and his slip against Chelsea at the end of the season, are more signs that he is no longer the player he used to be. It’s a shame that its ended like this but maybe Roy Hodgson felt pressured into playing Gerrard (and Rooney for that matter) for the sake of having more experience on the pitch. Maybe Wilshere would have made a bigger impact. Rickie Lambert was given a few minutes at the end of the Urugauy game, but maybe he coud have made a difference and been a bigger physical presence in both games.

England go into the game against Costa Rica knowing that only a win will be good enough. Pre-tournament, for England to lose 3 games in a row would be unthinkable, but now it is clearly a possibility. On a positive note, they could actually finish the World Cup with a better record (even if it is just on goal difference) than Spain. Speaking of Spain…

Football eh? Bloody Hell.

It's not all bad.. at least we can catch the start of Wimbeldon

“It’s not all bad.. at least we can catch the start of Wimbeldon”

On Africa and the World Cup

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One thing that has always caught my attention is how Africa and African football teams are spoken about at the World Cup. It seems as though the last African team left in the tournament somehow carries the hope of not only their nation, but the whole continent of Africa. Headlines such as ‘Ghana – Africa’s Best Hope in Tough World Cup Pool’ and ‘Why do African teams underperform at the World Cup?’ are common and go without questioning if the idea itself makes sense. The idea that African teams are spoken about in very different ways to teams from the rest of the world. Listen closely at how many times commentators and presenters will say things like ‘These players are not just representing their country, but also they are representing Africa’.

When Ghana were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup by Uruguay, it was seen as not only a triumph, but a possible glimpse into the future, as Ghana equalled the best result by an African team in World Cup history. Watching Luis Suarez’ handball and sending off, Asamoah Gyan’s subsequent penalty miss and Abreu’s audacious chip to win it, was one of the most heartbreaking events in recent World Cup history. It endeared Ghana and in particular Asamoah Gyan, to hearts all over the world; not just African hearts.

In last nights BBC World Cup preview show, Reggie Yates spoke about the history of African sides at the World Cup and about the chances of Ghana escaping the group of death this year. He quoted the African saying ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. I’m sorry but on a continent where approximately 2000-3000 different languages are spoken, not to mention possibly 8000 dialects, the idea of the African proverb makes no sense. Africa is not a country. The proverb European or South American proverb makes no sense, so how can a proverb from Africa be acceptable? It just seems as though Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Algeria get lumped together when the need to explain how they perform and where they come from arises. Speaking of under-performing, do African teams really underperform?

If we go by appearances in the last 16 (that is countries that qualify from their group), we see that Africa is actually the 4th most successful continent over the last 6 World Cups. The 3rd most successful is North America, with 9 appearances in the knockout stages to Africa’s 5 (Asia has 4 while Oceania has 1). If we look at quarter-final appearances however, Africa beats North America 3 -1, with quarter-final appearances by Ghana (2010), Senegal (2002) and Cameroon (1990) to the one appearance by the USA in 2002. So in terms of progression in the tournament, African sides come in 3rd to Europe and South America. South Korea earned Asia’s only spot in the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup and Oceania’s furthest foray was in the last 16 with Australia in 2006. So do African teams really under achieve? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Did Germany carry the hopes of Europe when they reached the final of the 2006 World Cup? Do the defending champions Spain go into this years tournament being spoken of as Europe’s best hope of a World Cup? Much has been made of the socio-economic problems that Brazil has, and we have heard over and over again, that failure for Brazil to win the World Cup would be a disaster for its people. Would it be a disaster for the rest of the South American continent? Of course not. Perhaps many Argentinians would relish seeing Brazil knocked out before them. After all, Brazil represents Brazilians. Greece for Greeks. Iran for Iranians. Cameroon for…Africans? Sure many Africans will hope that other African side do well, but I’m sure an Ivorian would much prefer to see Ivory Coast progress rather than supporting the African nation with the best squad, out of a sense of ‘Africanism’??

If Nigeria reach the World Cup final against Brazil on the 13th July, many Africans will be cheering for Nigeria. Maybe, just maybe, there will also be some Africans watching the same game wearing Neymar Jr on their backs.