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As the Spaniards have dominated world football over the past half decade, coaches for both club and country have tried to design ways to beat Spain’s famed tiki-taka.
In 2009, the U.S. employed a brilliantly executed bunker-and-counter strategy to knock off Spain in the Confederations Cup. In the 2010 World Cup, Switzerland embarked upon a similar strategy to pick up a 1-0 win over Spain in the group stage.
In 2012, Chelsea was able to top Barcelona, the braintrust behind tiki-taka at the club level, in the semifinals of the Champions League using a similar bunker-and-counter strategy.
This spring, in the 2013 Champions League semifinal, Bayern Munich perfected the counterattack strategy v. Barcelona, winning 7-0 over two legs. Bayern’s counter-attacking style produced such a dominating result despite Bayern holding less than 40 percent possession over those two legs.
Brazil, however, did not bunker against Spain in the Confederations Cup Final on Sunday, instead preferring to pressure Spain high and put a body on Spain’s diminutive midfielders every chance they could. They did not allow Spain’s playmakers any time to turn and face goal, any time to connect passes and outmuscled the Spanish players over and over.
Uncharacteristically, or perhaps because they have become so accustomed to teams giving them time and space, Spain was unable to cope with this pressure and repeatedly coughed up the ball in the middle third.
Brazil was able to pounce on these loose balls over and over again and took advantage of Spain’s greatest weakness, their defense, to win the final and the tournament in front of their home crowd.