The Spanish National Team clobbered their opposite form Costa Rica 7-0 in a Group E match which showcased Spain’s known technical superiority but also laid bare several key misses by one coach and one referee alike.
Tiki-taka a la Barca anyone?
It was obvious that Costa Rican coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, had not studied the manner of play of their opponent Spain. From the opening whistle the Barcelona- stamped Luis Enrique Spanish team camped out in the Central American’s half and passed the ball around back and forth. For the uninitiated, this is the foundation of tiki-taka. It was the style that won the Iberians Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012. Consequently, it has been a known “thing” for at least 15 years!
This possession’s objective is to tire and confuse the opposition in case there is anyone who has not watched La Liga and thus may yet be uninformed. The secondary objective is to score. So, possession is maintained until a short run behind the opponent’s defensive lines occasions a through ball or a chipped pass, and if the goal opportunity does not materialize immediately upon reception, you lay it off for the routine trailer to thump in from the area around the half-moon.
Thus, the goals kept coming and in the same manner, time after time. Until the first half was reached with a 3-0 lead and the second concluded one better at 4-0 for an aggregate 7-0. It would not have been a stretch to devise a defense that played up a bit, pressed a bit, and closed the early passing lanes to short-circuit tiki-taka—no? Costa Rica’s chances to progress from their group were difficult but attainable before this match, but if this is the caliber of coaching that undergirds their campaign then barring a superhuman effort by their players once on the pitch, their Qatar vacation may well be over.
Repeated strategic fouling anyone?
The refereeing mistake, though, is the most insidious as it will affect all of Spain’s opponents in all of the Iberian’s forthcoming games. The second tenet of Barca-style football after tiki-taka is the immediate foul upon the loss of possession followed by holding onto the ball to allow your teammates to get back into advantageous defensive positions. This latter strategy is not only unsportsmanlike but also illegal. Refs have to be aware…and make the calls!
The triple-whammy effects upon the fouled team are: first, to stop any counterattack at a time when the Spanish team has moved wholesale into their opponent’s half; second, to break the rhythm of their opponents and frustrate them as they have to start moving forward from a static position building up inertia from scratch instead of on the move; and third, it allows the Spanish team to get back on defense negating the normal advantage of regaining possession in the run of play. This triple-whammy unfair advantage is being facilitated and compounded by referees who do not soon see that type of fouling is a strategic Spanish priority.
Evidence: Spain pulls ahead in the 11th minute and at the 17th and later in the 20th the first and second such strategic fouls are committed by Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba (these are veteran Barcelona players, by the way). Those early fouls have two objectives in common, first to demoralize the Costa Ricans who have just then, finally wrestled possession away from the Spaniards and have thus been denied any momentum by the foul, and two, they are the “test fouls” which Spain commits purposely in near back-to-back fashion to see if the ref will catch on. If he does not it is open season.
Those types of fouls were committed so regularly in this match that as the game progressed the ref stopped calling them as such. In the end, the official count of fouls called was 12 against Costa Rica and 8 against Spain. By Papa’s count, if the illegal strategic fouls were included it would have stood at 32 against Spain—which might have produced quite a different game rhythm and perhaps a less bulky goal differential at the final whistle. Food for referees to much on, and the sooner the better.
Belgium defeated Canada 1-0 in Group F play in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup. The match was a contrast in soccer experience as the naïve Canadians outplayed the savvy Belgians and yet managed to lose to the Europeans’ game management skills if not their football technique.
At the 10th minute, Canada’s Alphonso Davies had his poorly taken penalty saved by Belgium’s Thibault Courtois and that would be one of the three shots the Canadians put on frame. They took 22 to the Belgians 9, and yet both teams got three on target.
At the 44th minute, the assist of the cup so far took place. It was a forty-yard pass from Toby Alderweireld straight down the middle of the field toward a racing Michy Batshuayi who did not need to break stride and only needed to redirect the one-bounce ball past his marker and the Canadian keeper for the only score the Belgians needed. Thereafter, careful substitutions by Red Devils coach Roberto Martinez sealed the fate of the match. The subs controlled the tempo, geography of the field, possession, and time management.
The Belgians could allow the Canadians eons of time on the ball as the young CONCACAF representatives were clueless about how to take advantage of multiple scoring opportunities. The North Americans kept taking impossible-angle or ill-advised shots when better-placed teammates could have put away easy tap-ins as each player seemed eager to make history instead of win the match. Similarly, the Canadians were oblivious to the rhythms of the game allowing the Belgians to catch their breaths, flood one side of the pitch, or play keep away when pressing them, and not allowing that geographic advantage would have been the “soccer IQ” things to do.
In the end, the Belgian’s experience was the deciding factor putting the Canadians in the impossible position of having to beat group-mates Croatia and Morocco, both better teams and both needing the win just as badly. Not a great position to be in particularly when they should have won this match outright.
Photo: UAE Referee Mohammed Abdulla, Shutterstock ID 557340694, by feelphoto.
Papa’s predictions quotient is at 33%, pretty poor.
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