'Tiki taka' is history
Stylish possession game that brought huge success to Spain and Barca is no longer effective
IT WAS another record-breaking performance from Spain at the World Cup - but not the kind they would have wanted or one anybody would have predicted.
Having won back-to-back European Championships and a maiden World Cup during six years of unprecedented success since 2008, Vicente del Bosque's 'golden generation' were looking to become the first side in history to win four successive international tournaments in Brazil.
They were also attempting to become the first European nation to win the World Cup on the other side of the Atlantic.
Instead of all that, La Furia Roja suffered the humiliation of being the first reigning champions to be dumped out of the World Cup after losing their opening two matches.
And it was not a pretty exit either.
In their Group B opener Del Bosque's holders were thrashed 5-1 by Holland - the first time Spain had conceded five goals in an international since 1963 and the biggest losing margin by any defending champion.
It is easy to forget Spain were actually leading in that match until a minute before half-time, but Robin van Persie's superb diving header combined with a stunning second-half Dutch onslaught helped set up one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history - albeit one superseded three weeks later by Germany's semi-final demolition of Brazil.
Words such as 'humiliation', 'nightmare' and 'embarrassment' littered the Spanish press following the Holland result, with the country's leading sports daily Marca running a black front page to their next-day edition with the headline 'Fix This'.
It was as bad a start as one could imagine, but Spain had also lost their opening match at the 2010 World Cup - against unfancied Switzerland - before going on to lift the title, so there were hopes that the champions could bounce back. They couldn't.
In their next match they were deservedly beaten again, going down 2-0 to Chile - a country they had never lost to before in a competitive match - and inside six days they were out of the tournament.
Spain signed off with a 3-0 victory over Australia but the damage had already been done and the inquests started into what was being described as the death of 'tiki-taka' football - the possession-dominated style of play that had brought La Roja so much success. It remains to be seen if that is the case, but Spain undoubtedly now face a period of reflection and consideration - with the futures of Del Bosque and several senior players having come under the spotlight in the wake of the World Cup disaster.
As for where it all went wrong this time, well, with the wonder of hindsight, there were perhaps a number of pointers going into the tournament that things might not go so smoothly for the holders in Brazil.
For example, Barcelona's troubles last season where they failed to win a major trophy for the first time in six years might have been a handy yardstick.
The Catalan giants have provided the backbone of the record-breaking Spain side of recent times but injury, retirement, loss of form and advancing years meant the likes of national-team stalwarts like Xavi, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets and Victor Valdes were either missing from Brazil or possibly not at the peak of their powers.
Then there was Spain's other domestic superpower, Real Madrid.
Real, in contrast to Barca, had a very good season, but unfortunately for La Roja the European champions' superstar-laden attack consisted almost exclusively of non-Spanish players while their goalkeeper Iker Casillas - Spain's captain and number one - had not been the regular first choice at the Bernabeu for 18 months.
The fitness of Diego Costa was another issue. With Spain having a dearth of form strikers to choose from, much was expected of Costa but the 25-year-old suffered a hamstring injury in the Champions League final and, while he started the opening two games in Brazil, he looked a pale shadow of the player that scored 36 goals for Atletico Madrid last season.
Add to those issues the fact that Spain were drawn in one of the toughest groups at the World Cup, and perhaps their early exit should not have come as such a surprise, even if the manner of it could not have been anticipated. So what next for the fallen champions?
There is plenty of promise in the next generation as well with Spain having won the last two European Under-21 Championships and boasting the likes of Isco, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Jese, Gerard Deulofeu, David de Gea and Alberto Moreno.
So while it may be the end of era for this particular golden generation, the future is looking far from bleak for the Iberian powerhouses.