Key Analysis: Spain's 2010 triumph in South Africa feels so long ago

Key Analysis: Spain's 2010 triumph in South Africa feels so long ago
Key Analysis: Spain's 2010 triumph in South Africa feels so long ago
Key Analysis: Spain's 2010 triumph in South Africa feels so long ago
When talking about Spain at the World Cup, it's not easy to forget that magical 2010, the year that marked a moment in the history of football in the country. A World Cup title that united, beyond sport, a society with growing rivalries and immersed in an economic crisis. Only in the exemplary Barcelona '92 Olympic Games was there such happiness among all Spaniards. Curiously, with a generation led by Pep Guardiola, the football team also won gold. But both milestones are now well in the past. In the Qatar tournament, they are going in without the favourites tag, but instead with players who have won a lot at youth level. Could they mark a winning turning point once again? There's nothing wrong with dreaming.

In South Africa, Shakira created the World Cup song, 'Waka Waka'. But another anthem also came from there, in this case not musical but footballing, the 'tiki-taka'.

It was a wonderful way of understanding football, and simply creating magic with the ball. Moving from a defence led by Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol to the magicians in midfield of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, who would conjure up chances for David Villa and Fernando Torres who were so clinical in front of goal.

That Spain set a trend that many have tried to imitate. Only Germany came close. Not even the following generations of La Roja could come close to that style of football.

The Spaniards failed at Brazil 2014, and Russia 2018 where the drama was magnified when days earlier their coach, Julen Lopetegui, was sacked for having committed himself to Real Madrid after that World Cup. 

From those winning days, only one survivor remains - Sergio Busquets. From the bench, Luis Enrique has been introducing new blood, trying to update the obsolete version of tiki-taka to adapt to the times. So far, it has helped him reach two Nations League semi-finals, but will it be enough to challenge for the World Cup crown?


Spain have always had excellent players with enormous technical quality. And they have them again, which is undoubtedly their greatest strength. The new batch of players are pushing so hard that they are already being compared to their great idols despite not even being 20 years old.

Pedri and Gavi, the last two Golden Boy winners, are the main focal points of this attractive young team, in which Dani Olmo, Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres and Yéremi Pino, among others, also stand out.

They are not the strongest, the fastest, nor the ones who run the most kilometres. However, the way they handle possession, look after the ball and link up with others is something that very few teams can boast of.

 It is perhaps curious then, that with this kind of quality on the ball, that they struggle to score lot of goals. Their last big goal-scoring performance dates back to September 2021 - a 4-0 win over a weak Georgia side. Although, to put it all in context, Luis Enrique's side have now gone 20 consecutive games scoring at least one goal since a goalless draw against Sweden in June 2021. 

What this new version of tiki-taka is also helping them with is keeping the ball out of the net. With Unai Simón in goal after David De Gea's poor performances as a replacement for the much-missed Íker Casillas, only Portugal have conceded fewer goals (3) than Spain (5) in Nations League A. And lo and behold, in the decisive encounter between the two Iberian teams, it was Spain who kept a clean sheet, winning 1-0 on Portuguese soil. The competitive do-or-die match will have been good preparation for the upcoming tournament.  


As we said, Spain suffer a lot when it comes to winning certain games because they do not convert their dominance into goals despite their superiority with the ball. It is sometimes very frustrating to see more than 800 passes in a match but failing to havce any shots on goal or dangerous actions. Just look at their last defeat in competitive matches. On September 24th against Switzerland, Enrique's side had 74% possession, made 809 passes compared to 278 for their opponents, produced 184 attacks to 76... yet only had four shots on target to their opponents' five. Final score? Spain 1-2 Switzerland.

Ideal Starting XI

Unai Simón; Carvajal, Laporte, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Koke, Pedri; Ferran Torres, Morata, Dani Olmo.  

The only thing that is practically non-negotiable for Enrique is the formation he starts games with - 4-3-3. Although, it can be modified thanks to the versatility of the players he has at his disposal.

It should be noted, there is no fixed eleven. It is more difficult to guess the starting line-up of the Asturian than anyone else.

We will have to see how some players who have recently recovered from injuries, such as Marcos Llorente, Aymeric Laporte or Olmo, or even those who have not played before Qatar, such as Koke, recover.

Where the coach has no doubts is in goal, with Simón as the undisputed number one. Two goalkeepers in great form in the Premier League, De Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga, who have already occupied that position in the Spanish goal, did not earn Enrique's trust and went from almost being a starter to not returning to the squad.

Up front, the striker whom the coach has always trusted is Álvaro Morata. In his best and worst moments, his qualities are what he wants for Spain.

Hottest Contest

 Spain has never been a team with an undisputed star like Argentina with Lionel Messi or Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo. But they have always had team leaders, players with character to pull the team through the toughest moments.

However, Enrique does not have someone with the status of a great captain now. Some say that is because he doesn't want anyone to overshadow him. He had Sergio Ramos, the last player to play that role, but he took advantage of his injuries last year to stop counting on him.

Busquets is the only world champion in the side, but he is a different kind of leader, quieter, and less media-friendly. And he is nowhere near his former level in what may be his last major international competition.

We will have to see if there is another player capable of taking that mantle, and being able to lift his team-mates if they fall.  


Spain have a tough road ahead in Qatar. For a start, with the utmost respect for Costa Rica and Japan, they will have to fight with Germany for first place in Group E.

Regardless of whether they finish first or second, they could face Kevin De Bruyne's Belgium or Luka Modric's Croatia in the Round of 16, which both would be close contests. But the biggest test would come in the quarter-finals with a possible clash with Brazil if they top their group. There are those who think it would even be better to finish second and have a potential quarter-final against, Portugal or Uruguay. That is as long as Brazil don't come second though.

Should they reach the quarter-finals, which seems the most likely result for Spain, then they perhaps can start to dream a little bigger.