Spain Play Ugly And Boring – Stifle Germany’s Beautiful Football

Spain are now getting heaped with praise because they won. But I figured I would be a little bit like a Spaniard, and complain about how they won. I am ready to be called a Philistine – but I hate watching this Spanish team and found myself desperately rooting for Germany just so I wouldn’t have to watch the Spaniards play again.

Let’s be clear – Spain didn’t win because their possession after much futility finally unlocked the German defense. There was no beautiful moment. No, instead there was a committed, yet unmarked, defender scoring off a free header on a corner kick. How very German of them.

See, as a general fan of the Premier League, I have in the past been annoyed by the Spanish press and its football aficionados who complain that English teams (or those managed by Jose Morinho) don’t let Barca “play” their beautiful game. But what Spain have showed thus far in this tournament is anything but beautiful. I hate to say it, but Spain play boring uneventful soccer. Spain make it look like the objective of the game is to simply have more possession than the other team. They create few chances and play at a slow, er NBA, like pace. They bore the opponent into submission. They are the reincarnation of the famous Simpson’s take on soccer.

Spain have dominated possession in every game they have played and yet create shockingly few chances. Gary Lineker’s famous saying about football being played by 22 men running around a pitch and in the end the Germans win 1-0, could just as easily apply to Spain. The point here is that in many ways Spain are not dissimilar to the 2004 Greece team that won the European Championships or the classic organized and defensive German teams that won by sucking the life out of games and winning 1-0 on a free kick.

Now I can sense my readers disbelief (he is comparing Greece to Spain? That’s nuts). There is no question that Spain have tremendous players – by far the most technically gifted of any team – but they use their technique and skill to play a game that is as much about stifling their opponents, as it is about scoring. It is in many ways just as negative a style as those played by organized, defensive teams. Despite all the possession, Germany in fact created about as many truly threatening chances as Spain did. They defend by keeping possession. Spain simply do not take advantage of stretched defenses. On countless occasions there was an opportunity to take advantage of space that had been opened up, but no – the instinct of the Spanish players is not to push, not to risk losing the ball, it is to retain possession and to stop and pass the ball back.

So they are similar to Greece and old-Germany, in that while they used their size, strength and commitment to defensively stifle their opposition in 2004, Spain instead use their technique and skill to stifle their opponents. In this tournament, the Germans were playing beautiful fast football, and yesterday Spain killed that. Yes German tactics had something to do with it, but the game was very similar to watching Greece’s defensive masterpieces in 2004. The purists will say I don’t appreciate the artistry at work in playing a possession football – but the same could be said about Greece of 2004. Casual fans who wanted action, didn’t “appreciate” how tactically organized and disciplined Greece was and couldn’t appreciate the art of stalwart defending.

In 2008, this was not the case. Spain played played much more attacking, flowing soccer that utilized width with David Silva in place of the redundant Alonso. Now under Del Bosque Spain play with three players that are basically the same – Xavi, Iniesta, and Alonso. Yes they have their differences, but all three are central midfielders – and when Fabregas is thrown in they play with 4. They play in front of a Busquets a holding player.

The instincts of their “wide” players is always to cut inside. But by cutting inside their is absolutely no width on the left, instead there are 4 or 5 (since Pedro essentially played inside as well) other players that are basically also camped in the middle of the field. That is 6 players in the central midfield. This has made Spain exceptionally easy to defend. Since with no width, Spain’s only way of attacking at that point is to play hopeful precise through balls to Villa (which were easily dealt with – with one early exception), play 1-2s in tight space to put players through (these were easily dealt with), lay off the ball for Alonso to have a hit (why not I guess?), or hit it wide to Sergio Ramos and have him put in a cross that David Villa has no chance of winning against the German backline. That is all they got. And so despite loads of possession, Spain somehow score on a corner kick.

Just before Spain scored, there was an instructive moment, in which Iniesta was isolated on Germany’s right back Phillip Lahm just outside the 18. Lahm made a lazy lunge and Iniesta easily skipped by. Now most players would feverishly take advantage of the opening in space and push aggressively into the box and put in a cross. Well not Iniesta, and not Spain. Instead, Iniesta casually moved into the area but instead of putting in a cross he stopped and stood on the ball, allowing the covering German defender to recover and put the ball out of play.

In the final Against the Dutch, the game will be similar. Spain will control the ball, the chances will be about equal and someone will one-nil, most likely the Spanish.


20 Responses

  1. Jealous much? What you call boring is called dominant and efficient. Learn the game.

    • He hit it spot on. Hes not jealous, hes telling it as it is. If you wanted Spain to win, this was great for you, cause you got to see your team pass the ball around and have fun. But if you wanted Germany to win, or didn’t care who wins, is was boring. No action at all, they put Germany to sleep, basically. This is why most Americans hate football.

      They also survived because they managed to stay untouched with card penalties. Germany and Uruguay both got killed with them, and as in the Germans case, unfairly.

      Nice to see someone actually get this spot on. I’m tired of bias reports about how it was not boring but great football. It may work, but its boring. Simple as that.

  2. Boring? Boring????? What the fuck were you watching. Spain took it to germany from the onset of the game. Germnay was on it’s heels the whole time. You’re just bitter that Spain beat germany in this game and previously for the Euro Cup.

    Usted no sirve para un carallo.

  3. here, here.

    David Villa has been the only fun Spaniard to watch, and he is basically making that all up on his own.

  4. […] a previous post I slagged off Spain – in a slightly over the top and provocative way – for boring stifling play – ie […]

  5. Yeah! Agreed u r Right! Spain’s making look the game ugly. Just like greece-euro2004 games. they have’nt won ne match with a big margin in this wc, have they?

  6. he is right. Watching Spain play is like watching a fighter run around the ring and throw a lucky punch every once in a while, it’s just boring. They do not have the quick counter attacking style that everyone who watches the best league(epl) love. I guess most of your team plays in la liga where it is two rich teams with great players against a bunch of poor teams who can barely pay their players it is no suprise that they play a safe and scared tactic. Boring, uneventful anti-football down with spain viva nederland

  7. i totaly agree, spanish play is boring. in order to do show you don’t have to play in this way. @spanish guys i know that for you is difficult to understand this kind of think, but if you watch germany-spain in a no-fan’s way you should not have enjoy this match.


  9. 100% correct Max. Excellent to read something that says what i think in such an articulate way.

  10. Soy española. España puede haber jugado bien o mal, como cualquier otro equipo. Pero siempre mereció ganar, a Alemania y ayer a Holanda.

    Tanta gente no puede estar equivocada. España es campeona de su continente Europa y ahora campeona del mundo.

    I’m Spanish. Spain may have played good or bad, like any other team. But they always deserved to win. First Germany and yesterday Netherlands.

    So many people can be wrong. Spain is the champion in its continent Europe and now the world champion.

  11. Max, Spot on write up of what was going on! Great job verbalizing what the mainstream does not want to say. Let’s hope the more fluid, forward teams find a way to crack the Spanish version of this German play from 20+ years ago. Otherwise soon all will revert back to boring, grinding football and kill the spirit of this game. Anybody who does not get it should just watch any Spain game and then Germany against England, Argentina, or Uruguay for a contrast. Anybody who still thinks Spanish play is ‘beautiful’ afterwards needs their head examined.

  12. Great analysis. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    The classic Spain moment for me was in the game against Paraguay, when Pedro was alone in front of the keeper and rather than shooting he simply passed the ball. This team has a tactic and has merit, but it doesn’t change the fact that their game is boring and cynical. They were lucky they didn’t concede goals (except against Switzerland and we all know how it ended), but winning a WC with 4 1-0 wins (and some help from the refs… that Villa goal against Portugal was offside) just feels poor.

    • Rita based on ur analysis u wouldn´t know an offfside if it came right down on u and bit u in the ass

  13. Perfect analysis. The final was an ugly and
    boring game — ugly due to Netherlands and
    boring due to Spain. The silver lining is that
    Spain will force other teams to develop the
    speed and creativity to break their stranglehold
    on football.

  14. Boring football is boring football after all is said and done.

  15. Spain played very boring matches in the semi and the final.

  16. Exactly as Mikelo described it. Spain plays “hindering” football, in a sense. The opponents either give up, or like we did, like the Netherlands did, fight back with everything, but I mean everything.

    It’s…in a sense pathetic, but that doesn’t mean I justify my own team’s behaviour as right. But you could see the frustration.

    Spain is like that extremely technically gifted friend of yours that just kept outplaying and outplaying you, no matter how many times you tried, you couldn’t win. Until you one day broke his leg.

    It might get them far, but it’s surely nothing to be remembered by.

  17. An excellent and accurate analysis.

    Spain are the best team in the world brilliant, but also utterly defensive in mindset and unspeakably boring.

    Unfortunately they can keep possession like this almost fever if they choose, because the interpretation of the laws on tackling at present favour endless ball retention.

    Legal physical pressure from behind and clean tackles from the side are now effectively outlawed, and so midfield players no longer need to protect the ball properly. All they need to is turn around, and they are invulnerable.
    This is leading to horror tackles from the FRONT, as players become ever more desperate to try and win some ball.

    Spain would be great in any era, but in times gone by teams would have the possibility of harrying them out of possession, without resorting to lunatic physical assaults.

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