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Spain might be out of the World Cup, but their influence lives on in Brazil. 

Photo credit Flickr user Gordon Dionne

Photo credit Flickr user Gordon Dionne

John F. Kennedy once said that victory has 100 fathers, and defeat is an orphan. For Spain, the opposite has been true. Blame has been placed at the feet of Vicente Del Bosque, Iker Casillas, Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, the defence, their stubbornness, their style of play, and just about everything else in between. No, for Spain, defeat has more fathers than it can count. But in a strange way, there was victory for Spain in this World Cup and, by extension, all of football.

International football tournaments are often cautious affairs. The reasons for this are twofold. First, international managers have far less time to work with their squads than club coaches. This encourages them to focus on defensive organization and discipline instead of complicated attacking movements that take more time to learn and develop amongst the players. Second, the stakes in international tournaments are so high that managers are naturally cautious, taking an approach of trying to minimize risk. They focus conceding one less instead of scoring one more.

That is why this World Cup has been such a refreshing change from the norm. Instead of sitting back in defense, many teams are now coming out on the attack, looking to get on the ball and pass it around in slick attacking patterns and press high up the pitch when out of possession. This is a direct result of the Spanish team that reigned king for what was an incredible six-year run. Although their spell of dominance finally came to an end in Brazil, their influence on the international game has never been stronger.

What Spain did for international football was bring back something that seemed to be lost in the age of globalization: They had an ideology, a belief that the game can and should be played a certain way. As the world got smaller, many countries lost their traditional footballing identities. The movement of players and managers across international borders mixed different philosophies and playing styles together and, as a result, the traditional style of many countries became diluted.

Spain reminded international football of the power of playing with a single idea, and that playing on the front foot can be just as successful as being defensively sound. It’s true that Spain were not always exciting. Many have argued that their devotion to an almost robotic sense of perfection drained the spontaneity out of matches. But when they were at their best—cutting the opposition to death with thousands of tiny cuts until they were ready for the killer best online casino blow—there was no better team to watch.

It has been a long time since a national team has caused such an evolution in the way the game is played. Pass and attack is reigning king at this World Cup—a tournament that has already seen a record amount of goals—and the influence of Spain can be seen in the way so many countries are concerned with keeping the ball and controlling the game through possession and pressing high up the pitch. For this, Spain should be heaped with praise for what they have accomplished since 2008, not mocked with derision for their failings. After all, they have another generation packed with world class talent coming through. Spain is far from finished.

Tiki-taka isn’t finished, either. There is plenty of criticism to go around for back to back humiliating performances, and a drastic change in personnel is needed and inevitably coming. But to completely overhaul the playing style that turned them into arguably the greatest national side of all time would be suicidal. Spain’s failure in this World Cup wasn’t a fault of playing style, it was the lack of execution of their playing style. The movement wasn’t the same, the passes weren’t as quick or precise, and there seemed to be a genuine lack of focus or killer instinct.

But perhaps that was to be expected: The team was tired. The mental and physical fatigue of the team’s success—16 players in Del Bosque’s squad won the last World Cup, and countless other club trophies since then—does not make Spain’s collapse surprising. Rather, the surprising thing is that they were able to last this long. Now that the world knows Spain is not an unstoppable juggernaut destined to win every tournament, perhaps the focus will move to the incredible array of players we have witnessed over the past several years, and what their playing style did for the rest of the world.

It is somewhat poetic that a World Cup so influenced by this team’s style should be the one where their run of dominance ends, but that is the beauty of football; a style and team dominate, fade, and a new style evolves from the old, taking its place. Spain’s commitment to controlling the game and attacking conquered cynical defending and timidness, and the evidence is clear to see in the array of attacking displays seen at this World Cup. Although Spain is gone from this tournament, their legacy is living on.

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