EURO 2012: Tiki Taka Faces Final Hurdle Against Italy in Final
The footballing world has changed a lot in the past 12 months.
Last June and July, Barcelona sat proudly at the summit of the game, fresh off a hat-trick of La Liga crowns and their third Champions League title in six years. They did so championing a style of play that left pundits and fans the world over little more than gushing messes (not Messis), waxing lyrical over the beauty and brilliance of the Blaugrana.
It seemed tiki-taka was how best to make the beautiful game, beautiful. The precise strings of intricate passes left opponents dazed and confused, having suffered death from a thousand cuts...erm, passes.
Adopting the mantra and style of play that had been redefined by the Catalan giants, the Spanish national side consequently took the international scene by storm. The glorious 2008 European Championship was backed up by a South African tour de force, culminating in victory clinic in the 2010 World Cup.
But as is always the case in football, times change, the wheel turns and tiki-taka is under threat.
Sure, Barcelona still looked as sensational as always last year, but they started losing. Real Madrid took their La Liga throne in record-breaking fashion, with the decisive blow coming in a 2-1 Los Merengues triumph at Camp Nou. Plus, their two-legged elimination at the hands of Chelsea and the style in which the Blues emerged victorious, only stiffened the winds of change.
The West Londeners were willing to concede possession, and therefore allow Barca's tiki-taka to take hold away from dangerous areas, choosing instead to opt for a resolute defensive setup before catching them on the break.
Barcelona still outplayed their opponents at almost every turn, but when it came down to it, they were no longer beating them.
The simple reasoning behind the change is that, after almost four years of dominance based around one central approach, teams have adapted and designed strategies purely to stop Barcelona. By and large, the Catalan club was able to counteract opponents' best laid plans, thanks to the mercurial boot of Lionel Messi and his 73 goals.
However, the Spanish side does not have that luxury. The injury to David Villa and stuttering form of Fernando Torres has forced a less potent midfielder into the pivotal "false nine" position adopted by Del Bosque. The result is a much less threatening proposition.
The Spain of 2012, despite sharing many of the same players, barely resembles the fluent side of 2008 or the intimidating 2010 model.
Other than a 4-0 thumping dished out to the woeful Irish, the Spaniards have only managed to win one game in the standard 90 minutes this tournament, and have only found the net twice.
The killer edge has disappeared. In the past, tiki-taka was utilized as a means to open up the channels to release their lethal strikers, now it is seemingly an end of itself, rather than a means.
In the semifinal against Portugal, Spain's Iberian neighbours produced almost the perfect performance to defeat this incarnation, sitting back and waiting for their chances to catch the ponderous Spanish on the break. Spain was able to ride its luck in the penalty shootout, and live to fight another day.
However, the blueprint is there, and there's arguably no side better equipped to land a knockout punch than the Italians, long considered the masters of the defensive approach on the international stage, and the only European side the Spanish have ever genuinely feared.
As Barcelona have dominated club football, Spain has dominated internationally. As the Italian-led blues of Chelsea brought an end to Barca's run, could more Italians do the same this weekend?
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