When Inter Milan all but blunted Barcelona in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final at the Camp Nou, it was a victory for the ugly, Italian-style catenaccio over the beautiful tiki-taka that the Spanish champions had perfected.
Switzerland’s opening-match victory over Spain, a team that is Barça in style and half-Barça in personnel, was a similar story – a triumph for the defensive specialists.
The lessons learned, however, got the Spaniards through to their first World Cup final.
Often, tiki-taka has been about creating pretty goals, artistically walking the ball into the net. But this morning, La Furia Roja played a possession game that, while not creating as many chances as the purists may wish, allowed their opponents even fewer.
Germany weren’t bad, they just rarely got a sniff, forced back into a defensive style unlike that which they had demonstrated so capably previously. When they did have it, they still created headaches for the Spanish defence but without the kind of sustained pressure to force a lapse in concentration.
For all this, it was a rather un-Spanish goal that settled the match, Carles Puyol rising above his Spanish (and yes, Barcelona) teammate Gerard Piqué to blast in a fierce header from a corner. Make no mistake, however, it was a thoroughly deserved win. The quality and patience of the Spanish play was in no way compromised by the crudeness of the decisive moment.
It was almost as if catenaccio had had a one-night stand with tiki-taka and their love-child, like the theoretical product of the ‘hottest fan’ Larissa Riquelme and the ‘ugliest footballer’ Wayne Rooney, may not have always been easy on the eye but was interesting nonetheless. Spain has taken custody of the bastard, and it in turn has taken the Spanish team to a place they have never been.
MUST-SEE: Carles Puyol’s goal – with commentary from Spanish radio station Cadena SER. Yes, that is commentators chanting.
EYEBROW-RAISER/SHORTS-DROPPER: Dutch defender Andre Ooijer celebrated his team’s progress to the World Cup final by dacking teammate Arjen Robben. And nothing else needs to be said.
And thus ends a column that managed to not mention the real star of the show, Paul the Octop- oh.
Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and a Spanish chance to still make back the money lost on an ill-conceived bet. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.