Spanish ‘tiki-taka’ stumbles

DOHA, Dec 7: Spain lost to Morocco 3-0 in a penalty shootout in the round of 16 at the World Cup on Tuesday, failing to make it to the quarterfinals for the third straight time since winning its last world title in South Africa in 2010.
La Roja also lost in a shootout in the last 16 four years ago, and it was also on penalties that it was eliminated in the semi-finals of the European Championship last year.
Expectation vs
There were high hopes for Spain ahead of the World Cup after it did well at Euro 2020 and at the Nations League, where it lost in the final to France.
The expectations became even higher after a resounding 7-0 rout of Costa Rica in its opener in Qatar, when Spain’s young squad successfully brought back the “tiki-taka” ball-possession style that had led La Roja to triumphs in the past.
But Spain’s run in a major tournament ended in disappointment again after it struggled to translate its ball possession into goals. After the big win against Costa Rica, Spain played well against Germany but was held 1-1 after conceding a late equaliser. It then lost 2-1 to Japan when it needed a draw to win its group.
By finishing second, Spain apparently had fallen into an easier path by avoiding an encounter with 2018 runner-up Croatia in the round of 16, as well as possible matchups with Brazil and Argentina later on. Instead, it faced Morocco, which was one of the surprises of the tournament but had never made it to the last eight at a World Cup.
Spain controlled the game Tuesday but struggled to get past the well-organised Moroccans, who ultimately prevailed in the shootout after Pablo Sarabia’s penalty kick hit the post and Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets had their attempts saved by goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
“It’s my responsibility,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique, who had asked his players to practice 1,000 penalty kicks while with their clubs. “I picked the first three penalty-takers.”
Spain’s only win in five penalty shootout attempts at a World Cup came against Ireland in the round of 16 in 2002. It was eliminated by co-host South Korea on penalties in the quarterfinals of that tournament.
Spain has won only three of its last 11 World Cup games since 2010.
What’s next?
Spain is not expected to play again until qualifying for Euro 2024 in March, when La Roja faces Norway, Scotland, Georgia and Cyprus.
Despite the World Cup disappointment, Spain’s young squad should be favored to qualify from its group and again be among the contenders in 2024, when it will continue its quest to win its first major title since Euro 2012.
“We’ll pick ourselves up and use it as a learning experience,” Busquets said. “We’re in a good dynamic, with young people. This is going to make them stronger.” (AP)

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