Despite the fact that they are still fresh in our minds, the Spanish squads from 2008 to 2012 were among the best in the world. The main reason for this is their now-signature style of football, known as “tiki-taka,” which emphasizes short passing, possession, and constant movement. However, Spain had success prior to tiki-taka, having won the 1964 European Championship and finishing fourth in the 1950 World Cup. Read more and warm yourself up for the upcoming World Cup Qatar 2022 Coup!
A Successful Olympic Debut
The Spanish Football Federation was established in 1909, with the first national team formed in preparation for the Olympics in 1920. On August 28, 1920, they played their first international match, defeating Denmark 1-0 thanks to a Patricio Arabolaza goal. They were then defeated 3-1 by hosts Belgium, who went on to win the tournament. Spain joined three other national teams in a consolation tournament following the final match. Spain came from behind to defeat Sweden 2-1 in the first match. They then defeated Italy 2-0 in the semi-finals, with Félix Sesmaga scoring a brace. Surprisingly, this was Spain’s first and only official victory over Italy until 2012. Spain faced off against the Netherlands in the consolation tournament finals. They triumphed once more, this time taking home the silver medal.
The Two Wars
Despite missing the first World Cup in 1930, Spain qualified for the next one. Their first appearance in the competition was a complete success, as they defeated Brazil in the round of 16. They won the game 3-1, scoring all three of their goals in the first half in an 11-minute span. In the quarter-finals, they drew 1-1 with hosts and eventual champions Italy in the first match but lost 0-1.
Due to the outbreak of the Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, Spain was unable to capitalize on this promising appearance. Spain was drawn into WWII as soon as it ended, preventing them from playing any competitive matches for the next 16 years. However, they made a strong comeback by qualifying for the 1950 World Cup and winning all three of their group matches. They finished fourth after one draw and two defeats in the final round.
The First Major Award
The Spanish Football Federation decided to appoint the legendary Helenio Herrera as coach after failing to qualify for the next two World Cups. They advanced to the quarter-finals of the 1960 European Championship qualifiers by defeating Poland 7-2 on aggregate. However, they lost their tie with the Soviet Union due to dictator Franco’s political disagreements with the Soviets.
Four years later, they were given a second chance by qualifying for the final stage of the 1964 Euro. They defeated a heavily favored Hungarian team in extra time in the semi-finals. The final match pitted them against the Soviet Union again, but they had Franco’s permission to play this time. Spain won the first major trophy in its history with a 2-1 victory in a tense and close-fought battle.
The Major Downturn
Unbeknownst to most, this would be Spain’s final trophy in a long time. The next two decades were especially dry, as they failed to qualify for five of the nine major tournaments held during this time period. Moreover, even when they advanced to the final tournament, they were routinely eliminated in the group stage (1962, 1966, 1978, and 1980). These results appeared to reflect the country’s turbulence as Franco’s regime came to an end.
Spain experienced a mini-resurgence in the 1980s, which began with the 1982 World Cup. After being chosen as the tournament’s host nation, the expectations for this Spanish team were fairly high. Despite not playing their best football, they advanced from their group, which also included Honduras, Yugoslavia, and Northern Ireland. However, they were eliminated from the competition after losing 1-2 to Germany and drawing 0-0 with England in the second round.
Getting Back On Track
This appearance seemed to give the Spanish team new life. In the Euro 1984 qualifiers, they needed to win by 11 goals or more against Malta in order to finish first in their group. Despite trailing 3-1 at halftime, they went on to score nine goals in the second half, clinching first place and qualifying for the final tournament. The Netherlands, which finished second, did not compete in the tournament at all.
Spain drew 1-1 with Romania and Portugal in their first two games at the tournament. However, a 1-0 victory over West Germany in the final leg was enough to propel them to the top of their group and into the semi-finals. The following match, against Denmark, ended in a 1-1 tie, but Spain advanced on penalties. They were defeated 0-2 in the finals by Platini’s France, who were both the hosts and tournament favorites.
Spain was drawn into a relatively easy group with Brazil, Algeria, and Northern Ireland in the 1986 World Cup. They lost to Brazil but advanced to the knockout stages with two victories over their remaining opponents. They defeated Denmark 5-1 in the round of 16, with Emilio Butragueo scoring four goals. They were then eliminated on penalties by Belgium in the quarter-finals.
The two major tournaments that followed (Euro 1988 and World Cup 1990) were not particularly successful, with Spain exiting in the group stage and the round of 16, respectively. The 1994 World Cup saw Spain advance from their group and defeat Switzerland 3-0 in the round of 16. They went on to lose 1-2 to Italy in a contentious match in which Mauro Tassotti elbowed Spain’s star midfielder Luis Enrique, knocking him out.
Spain managed to escape from their group, which included France and Bulgaria, at Euro 1996. They were drawn against England in the quarter-finals. Because no goals were scored in 120 minutes, the game was decided on penalties, which England won 4-2. The 1998 World Cup was Spain’s next tournament, but they were unable to advance from their group due to a surprise defeat to Nigeria and a lifeless 0-0 draw with Paraguay.
Spain produced more young talent in the new century, but their tournament results remained mediocre. They advanced from their group at Euro 2000 but were eliminated in the quarter-finals by old rivals France. Spain appeared to be turning a new leaf at the 2002 World Cup, especially after winning all three of their group matches. South Korea eliminated them on penalties after narrowly defeating Ireland in the round of 16.
The next two tournaments proceeded similarly. Spain was eliminated in the group stage of the 2004 Euro, which included Portugal, Russia, and eventual surprise champions Greece. Following this disappointment, the Spanish Football Federation named Luis Aragonés as the club’s new manager. He led Spain to three victories in the 2006 World Cup group stage, but they were eliminated in the round of 16 by France.
By this point, it was clear that Spain possessed a plethora of talented players in need of a system. Their midfield, which included Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and David Silva, was both their greatest strength and their Achilles heel. Despite being technically gifted and composed in possession, all of them were physically inferior to the majority of their opponents. Furthermore, Spain’s defenders appeared to be prone to fatal errors.
To compensate for these flaws, Aragonés began using his own version of tiki-taka, a passing and possession-based style of play. This strategy was on full display at Euro 2008, when Spain was drawn in a group with Russia, Sweden, and defending champions Greece. Despite conceding a goal in each of these games, Spain came out on top each time, taking first place in their group.
Their toughest test came in the quarter-finals when they faced World Cup holders Italy. Their catenaccio strategy proved to be an effective counter to tiki-taka, resulting in a 0-0 draw and a penalty shootout. Spain, on the other hand, won the penalty shootout 4-2. They went on to win their first major title in 44 years, defeating Russia (3-0) and Germany (1-0). Despite not scoring a goal, Xavi was named tournament MVP.
Champions of the World
Following this success, Aragonés stepped down as manager, and Vicente del Bosque took his place. Spain’s tiki-taka strategy was combined with a direct style of play under Del Bosque, earning them the nickname La Furia Roja (“The Red Fury”). They won all three games in their group at the 2009 Confederations Cup. However, a 0-2 loss to the United States in the semi-finals served as a wake-up call that they weren’t as unbeatable as they appeared.
Spain finished first in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers with a perfect record of ten victories in ten games. They got off to a shaky start in the tournament, losing 0-1 to Switzerland in their opener. They won the next two games against Honduras (2-0) and Chile (2-1), but many observers began to suspect that the tiki-taka style of play had peaked.
Spain did not concede a single goal in the knockout stages on their way to their first World Cup title. They won 1-0 against Portugal and Paraguay, with David Villa scoring both goals. The score remained the same in the semi-finals, but Puyol scored the game-winning goal. The finals against the Netherlands were a particularly physical affair, with both teams receiving 14 yellow cards. Spain won 1-0 in extra time thanks to an Iniesta goal.
Success in the Future
Prior to the 2012 Euro, Spain was widely regarded as the overwhelming favorite to become the first team to retain the championship. Their qualifying campaign was a complete success once again, as they won all eight of their games with a +20 goal difference. They then drew 1-1 with Italy in the tournament opener. With wins over Ireland and Croatia, they increased their final point total to 7, good for first place in the group.
Spain faced a difficult test in the semi-finals after convincingly defeating France 2-0 in the quarter-finals. Portugal created numerous scoring opportunities throughout the game, but Spain held firm and won on penalties. The finals were a rematch against Italy, with Spain dominating from the start. They won the match 4-0, becoming the European Championship’s joint most successful team.
The End of an Era
Despite its role in winning three major championships, tiki-taka was not a perfect strategy. By this point, many teams had figured out how to counter tiki-taka with a narrow 4-4-2 formation that left plenty of room for counter-attacks. This strategy also forced the Spaniards to move the ball wide, robbing them of vital midfield space. Tiki-taka eventually devolved into a flawed and ineffective system.
All of this was on display during the 2014 World Cup. Spain had no answer for Louis Van Gaal’s narrow 5-3-2 setup in their opening game against the Netherlands, losing 1-5. Chile, their next opponent, used a similar strategy, with three central midfielders man-marking their Spanish counterparts. Spain was eliminated from the tournament after losing 0-2. They defeated Australia 3-0 in the final leg.
The next two tournaments ended similarly. They finished second in the 2016 Euro after losing their final group stage match against Croatia and will face Italy in the round of 16. Spain once again lacked the midfield space to punish their opponents’ aggressive play, falling 0-2. They were also eliminated in the round of 16 of the 2018 World Cup, this time by hosts Russia in a penalty shootout.
We hope you liked this article. As a bonus, here is a video that additionally explain Span National Soccer Team History.