2014 World Cup: Did Brazil Provide the Blueprint to Dethrone Spain?
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The comparisons of Spain to Barcelona recently have been endless, as many question whether their reigns of dominance are coming to a close with major losses to Brazil and Bayern Munich, respectively. The two teams play brilliant tika-taka football, with excellent passing combinations that bewilder and frustrate teams for minutes on end, as they are unable to come near touching the ball.
Fortunately for those that have been victimized by Spain, Brazil might have confirmed the correct way to defeat the only international team in this mold.
In Sunday's FIFA Confederations Cup final, Spain was continually stifled by high pressure and an endless barrage of attacks by Brazil's midfielders and forwards. The passing lanes we usually see for Iniesta and Xavi were gone or closed up by Luis Gustavo and Paulinho.
In the rare occasion they were able to complete a pass or gain a touch, Brazilian defenders came in droves from multiple angles to force the ball backwards into Spain's half or gain possession for themselves to start a vicious counter-attack.
After the first half, many wondered whether Brazil could sustain this pressure if it had only been the amplified energy, spurred on by the raucous home crowd, that empowered them. Sure enough, they disproved any lingering doubts in the second half, and while the last 15 minutes or so might have dropped a notch or two in intensity, victory was never in doubt for Brazil.
Spain's only two significant chances came in the 41st minute, when Julio Cesar was beaten on a counter only for Pedro's shot to be cleared by a sliding David Luiz, and a 55th minute penalty kick by Sergio Ramos that flew over the bar. The former chance was the more crucial one simply because it would have leveled a match against the run of play.
If Pedro had indeed scored, the outcome of the match might have been different and the momentum could have potentially swung in favor of Spain, but alas, it was not meant to be. It could be argued that Ramos scoring his penalty might have done the same, but his team was not afforded many chances before that moment and seemed unlikely.
The tiki-taka riddle that has fascinated the world—and left soccer fans enamored for years with Barcelona and Spain's dominance—may have been solved in their recent defeats. High and sustained pressure with devotion to counter-attacking has not come about just now in light of these defeats, but rarely have we seen two teams like Bayern Munich and Brazil do it with such conviction and high conversion rate.
Simply put, if you can produce a game plan like Brazil's against Spain at the World Cup, it will not be enough. The best teams must convert their chances against a team as disciplined and controlling as Spain, for you will not see much more than 40% possession against them if you allow Spain's game plan to take hold.
It is the only reason we did not see an Italy-Brazil final in a rematch from group play. Italy's game plan was almost virtually the same as Brazil's in the semifinal match against Spain, yet they lacked the attacking firepower to put their opponent on their heels.
The type of performance put on by Brazil may not be the style or strength of some of these potential 2014 World Cup teams, but if Spain is allowed too much time on the ball they will pick you apart.
A year from now, Spain might evolve into a different team, one without injuries (Xabi Alonso), or possibly a new-found philosophy (perhaps reverting to a 4-6-0 formation).
Two things are for sure: You must pressure Spain's creative players (I realize they have many) as long as you can, and you must finish your offensive chances, as few and far between they may be.
It's been very tough to frustrate Spain in recent years, but as Brazil showed, it can be done. In less than a year, maybe the title of soccer's best will belong to someone else, but it will certainly take more than this one blow to dethrone the Spanish kings.
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