Soccer-Spain's "vertical football" too much for ageing Croatia

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group B - Spain v Croatia - Berlin Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany - June 15, 2024 Croatia's Luka Modric looks dejected after Spain's Dani Carvajal scored their third goal REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

BERLIN (Reuters) - Having dominated international football for years with their possession-based "tiki-taka" style, Spain's switch to a faster, more direct approach saw them cruise to an easy 3-0 win over Croatia on Saturday as they laid down a marker for Euro 2024.

The previous day, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic had spoken about how the current Spain side tried to move the ball into attacking areas more quickly, and when Croatia failed to make the ball stick in attack midway through the first half, the Spaniards showed exactly what he meant.

Marc Cucurella's clearance found Rodri in midfield, and he passed calmly to Fabian Ruiz - a couple of touches later, the midfielder split the defence with a sublime ball to Alvaro Morata and he slotted it home. Croatia never recovered.

For all the success Spain had with tiki-taka, winning the Euros in 2008 and 2012 either side of a World Cup win in South Africa in 2010, it was often criticised as being a style based on passing for the sake of it, rather than trying to score.

Instead, the Spaniards held possession for long periods, tiring out opponents with their patient probing before striking quickly in the final third for simple, devastating goals.

The adoption of a more modern and energetic pressing style by many teams blunted their previous possession game, but it also gave rise to their current take on attacking play, which seeks to create goal-scoring chances more quickly.

The Spanish attack was not limited to rapier-like thrusts through the middle either - though Lamine Yamal's name will be in the headlines as he became the youngest player ever to play at the Euros, his fellow winger Nico Williams also deserves his share of the plaudits.

Though he crossed perfectly for Spain's third goal, the 16-year-old Yamal took time to grow into the game, but Williams was a threat from the off, constantly trying to get his defender onto the wrong foot and steal into the space behind him.


The introduction of Dani Olmo after the break gave a mouth-watering taste of what the future of Spanish football might look like, with Yamal, Williams and Olmo all looking to square their shoulders toward the opponent's goal and attack with gusto.

In contrast, it looks like the end of the road for some of Croatia's greatest-ever players.

Luka Modric can still put a pass through the eye of a needle, but teams no longer give him the space to do so, and the introduction of Ivan Perisic at 3-0 down seemed like an attempt to summon the past in an effort to change the present.

Croatia's afternoon was summed up when Bruno Petkovic missed a penalty and then had a goal form the rebound ruled out after his team mates encroached during his original spot kick, leaving them without even a consolation goal.

Spain, on the other hand, could cruise through the second half as if it was a friendly, testing tricks and combinations that might pay dividends later in the tournament, if their success with their new-found vertical football persists.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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