In part one of this two part series we discussed how the San Antonio Spurs’ characteristic playing style, chemistry, and confidence, won them game one of the NBA finals against their hosts, the Miami Heat, Thursday night. In part two we will discuss and compare how small-sized Spain won an unprecedented three, consecutive, major international football tournaments against faster, stronger, and bigger teams, using what has come to be called the tiki-taka style of play (http://bit.ly/Hlc6gQ).
In 2008, the Spanish National Football Team finally broke through the perennial wannabe status to become European Champions. They did so with an emerging new style of play that focused on ball possession. Their short constant passes had them keeping 60-70% of the game’s possession, ensuring no harm would come to their goal for long stretches of time, while simultaneously multiplying their potential goal scoring opportunities by controlling the ball for so long.
The style, blunted their opponents’ physical strengths, masked the Spaniard’s physical deficiencies, and put the game at the feet of some of the most skilled practitioners of the pure game. They won Euro 2008 by only 1-0, but they controlled the game over a taller and faster German side that also outweighed them nearly to a man.
In 2010, that same national team, with players coming mainly from Spain’s two powerhouse club teams, Real Madrid and Barcelona FC, had been playing together for a couple of years and owned their style. Detractors, though, had begun to call it boring and ineffectual as the overwhelming possession did not always translate into overwhelming victories, or victories when they mattered, or so they said. Then came the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Following a slow start, and conceding two goals in the group stage, the team swept through the elimination round to capture the title, beating teams that had their own defined and differing styles–Portugal, Paraguay, Germany, and the Netherlands–without conceding a goal. Tiki-taka was soon the rage and was being copied by major clubs and national teams globally. Detractors still felt the style lacked scoring punch as those four mentioned games were won by an identical 1-0 score. Then came Euro 2012.
In Euro 2012 (http://bit.ly/O8z9MX), Spain conceded one goal in a 1-1 tie to Italy, then scored eleven goals without allowing a single scoring response, in five straight games, en route to their third consecutive major international tournament. In the finals, the defensive-minded Italians were overwhelmed 4-0. Tiki taka was now the global standard as Barcelona, FC, the major practitioner at club level, had also spent the past couple of years winning their national domestic league and cup, the Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Today the boring Spanish Team’s style has won over the global game, and so far, its practitioners have only lost one meaningful international tourney, the 2013 Champions League. In that tournament, Spain was represented in both semifinals. Tiki-taka is still Spain’s style, and we will see it again (at the 2013 Conferderations Cup), and again (at the 2014 World Cup). Their results will speak for themselves.
This team, very much like the San Antonio Spurs, have been playing their game, their way, together, for many years. Their style, so dependent upon the shared trust that each recipient of the ball will treat it equally well and return the given pass with interest, has engendered such a comunal confidence among the players, that adherence to the style is second nature.
What won the very talented Spanish National Football Team two back to back Euros with a World Cup in between, was an adherence to an emerging, and painstakingly established, style of play that inspired confidence among its practitioners and engendered a team chemistry that allowed different players their starring moments, match in and match out. That communal trust brought about a collective determination that in any given game, when that one pivotal winning opportunity emerged, whomever was in the position to capitalize on it could and would do so, with everyone else’s help.
What won game one of the NBA finals for the Spurs was a consistency of playing style even in the face of poor shooting (42%), a team confidence and determination that their playing style would prevail, even under the pressure of playing behind all game long, and the team chemistry necessary to keep all of the squad on board that mental plane, which allowed the players on the court to execute their proven routines when that one pivotal opportunity emerged.
Tony Parker’s banked shot, with 0.1 left on the shot clock (http://bit.ly/18bwlKX), was not a hard shot to make, what was difficult was reaching that point where he believed (and his teammates believed) that 6′-2″ Tony could get past 6′-8″ Lebron James’ stretched arm, after dribbling on his knees to get away from 6′-11″ Chris Bosch’s reach in, following his two consecutive escapes from 6′-4″ Dwayne Wade’s nearly successful stabs at the basketball, all while knowing time was expiring, and that he could not get the ball to anyone else for the needed shot. He had confidence, and his teammates had trust, that if they collectively and singly just kept at their own way of playing they would win.
Andres Iniesta’s 2010 World Cup winning goal, at the 116 minute, was not a difficult shot to make (http://bit.ly/lZsrWM), what was difficult was to maintain a style of play that was roundly criticized, over a period of years, and that until that moment had not produced results through 115 minutes of play, in what was the game of their lives. Their win was a testament to a team chemistry that kept players, at that stage of the game, pushing each other forward (see the clip) at an ungodly pace, and to their confidence that their maligned style would produce the most cherished result in the globe’s most important sporting event.
Teams for the ages are made of this stuff. Enjoy and record the NBA Finals, and the upcoming 2013 Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup, for far too soon Manu, Tony, Tim, Iniesta, Xavi, and Fabregas, will retire, and we can’t afford to forget their legacies.