Copy of 2022-12-06T183339Z_2012472702_UP1EIC61CWMHJ_RTRMADP_3_SOCCER-WORLDCUP-MAR-ESP-REPORT-1670409951588
Spain coach Luis Enrique reacts after his team were beaten on penalties by Morocco in the last 16 clash at the Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar. Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: If the object of the game was to complete thousands of backwards and sideways passes and not hurt opposition teams, then without any shadow of a doubt Spain would be the world champions.

They dominated possession of the ball in the last 16 clash against Morocco yet in spite of that they failed to create any significant chances. What is worse is that when their game plan was clearly failing, there was no plan B. They continued with the same tedious tippy-tappy footy, hoping for a breakthrough which even a casual viewer of the beautiful game could tell was never going to come against the resilient Moroccan defence.

The match required a penalty shootout and Morocco executed their spot kicks with aplomb missing only one, while the much-fancied Spaniards failed to convert their first three – this despite having practiced “thousands of penalties” according to coach Luis Enique.

Dull style

So, the Red Fury were knocked out of the tournament and I am breathing a sigh of relief. I really could not take any more of their dull approach.

It is now 10 years since they won their last major trophy. They have not progressed past the last 16 since they won the World Cup in 2010. But what will hurt them more isn’t the fact it’s been a decade since they won anything, it is the fact that they have been playing arguably the most boring football in that time and have never looked close to being a proper threat. Enrique had promised fans he would give them a show in Qatar but aside for one big win over Costa Rica, his team were very disappointing.

Spain dominated possession in all four of their games at the tournament yet they never really looked like they knew what to do with the ball. They have been playing this way for years so it is no surprise however this new young team that the former Barcelona legend has built seemed especially dreary. They made 1,019 passes compared to Morocco’s 304 yet the North Africans were far more of a threat on the ball and played with speed and power.

Spain continued to cautiously knock the ball around at the back and did not look intimidating at all. Their one shot on target was the lowest they have managed in a World Cup. In fact they looked a mile away from competing with the top nations and now the big question is whether this is the end for Enrique – who is out of contract this summer – and his passing experiment?

He was appointed boss in 2018 and guided Spain to the Euro 2020 semi-finals, where they lost on penalties to Italy. That’s as good as it has got for Enrique. But the style of play he has implemented has not gone down well with the fans.

In their era of domination between 2008 and 2012 they drew plaudits for their attacking play which helped established them as the world’s leading nation under Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque. Long gone are those days.

Wrong approach

Enrique must take the lion’s share of criticism for defiantly sticking with the same possession-based approach throughout his reign even though it has continued to fail him at the major tournaments.

Spain lost to Japan and Morocco and clearly he got his tactics wrong. They did not attempt many long range efforts, they did not put enough crosses into the box, they were not physical enough and they were not fast. All they were keen to do was to retain possession. Sadly for them, this was not the possession World Cup. They needed to run at players and take some risks to make space and create chances.

It was ever so dull to watch and it is a good thing they are no longer in the tournament.