- Spain exited the World Cup after losing to Morocco
- Spain was one of the favourites in the tournament
- Coach Luis Enrique retired after the World Cup exit.
With the Qatar 2022 World Cup ending with Messi and Argentina lifting the cup, we look at what went wrong with one of the Tournament’s Favorites, Spain.
From glory early in the Group stages to an unexpected exit that saw Morocco have the last laugh.
Spain has a long history of dominating both the club and international levels of football. With Los Blancos winning an incredible 14 Champions League/European Cup trophies, they can boast of having Real Madrid, the most successful club in European competitions. In addition, they are home to Barcelona’s La Masia, which has produced players like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and others. This is possibly the most excellent academy project in the sport’s history.
They dominated internationally in the late 2000s and the early 2010s, winning consecutive trophies from 2008 to 2012. As if all of that weren’t enough, they also developed some of the world’s most excellent managers, including Pep Guardiola, arguably the best coach in world football.
Off to a Good Start
Spain was one of the favourites in the sports betting odds going into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and they got off to a promising start when they destroyed Costa Rica 7-0 in their first group game. Young players like Pedri and Gavi appeared to have given a squad that had dwindled a bit in previous seasons new life, and Spain was on the rise again. Despite having a few heart-in-mouth moments that lasted at least a few minutes, they advanced to the knockout stages and appeared to have drawn Morocco in the Round of 16 on a fanciful basis.
Then the shock struck. Spain controlled most of the game and had 77% of the possession at the end, but they only managed one shot on goal and no goals. Morocco endured the storm for 120 minutes before spectacularly eliminating La Roja on penalties. There have been many finger-pointing incidents, but what specifically went wrong for Spain?
When coach Luis Enrique revealed the 26-man roster before the competition began, some people’s eyebrows were already raised. To be sure, he had limited options for strikers, but choosing Alvaro Morata as his sole striker was already a risky move. Despite having a respectable goalscoring record for Spain, the Juventus striker has a history of missing crucial opportunities. The team’s goal total was alarmingly low compared to players like Dani Olmo, Marcos Asensio, and Ferran Torres.
Enrique received criticism for leaving out Thiago Alcantara, a midfielder for Liverpool. Thiago is yet another La Masia product; his playmaking skills are among the best in the world, so it was shocking to see him left out of the squad.
What went wrong with Spain
The 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica appeared to have slightly exaggerated Spain’s performance, and the rest of the tournament told a different tale. Even though they dominated nearly all of their games, their ineffective forwards found it difficult to find a way to score after the opening game. However, more factors contributed to this than just their ability to finish.
Spain has long been recognized and praised, even for their “pass first” strategy. The country is renowned for inventing the “Tiki-Taka” style of play, in which players patiently wait for openings while passing their opponents to death. This was much simpler to accomplish when they had the technical wizardry of Xavi, Iniesta, and David Silva to support the striking prowess of Fernando Torres and David Villa. When this strategy succeeds, it succeeds; however, when it fails, you need a plan B, and Luis Enrique lacked one.
This lack of urgency when they needed a goal cost them dearly in their defeats to Japan and Morocco, who were content to keep ten men in front of the ball, closing any openings for advancing attackers and thwarting Pedri’s passing skills. It was frustrating to see Spain’s ineffectiveness at a time when the best course of action would be to get balls into the box, possibly even by pushing a centre-back up top.
Enrique takes Blame
Enrique has since accepted responsibility for their early exit. However, he has primarily focused his criticism of himself on the penalty takers he selected rather than their inability to score goals.
“We have to congratulate the winners,” Luis Enrique said. “They played their game; it turned out well; they were better than us in the penalty shootout. I think children must learn to lose, regardless of whether they deserve it.”
“Right now, I’m looking forward to getting home to see my family and my dogs and be with them. I suppose that from next week, when the president [Luis Rubiales] considers it timely, we’ll talk about what the future can bring. Right now, that means nothing to me because we need to assimilate this disappointment and deal with it best.”
If Spain wants to regain their former superpower status, some significant changes will need to be made to the team moving forward. This might result from a coaching change, a change in strategy, or a stronger emphasis on the growth of attacking talent. They undoubtedly have a group of players who can continue to compete together for at least two more tournaments, but if they repeat their performances from Qatar, it won’t matter.