'Tiki taka' remains Spain's hallmark

From left: Spain captain Sergio Ramos and midfielders Koke and Isco having a kickabout during training ahead of today's Group B decider against Morocco. La Roja are level with Portugal on four points, with Iran one behind.
From left: Spain captain Sergio Ramos and midfielders Koke and Isco having a kickabout during training ahead of today's Group B decider against Morocco. La Roja are level with Portugal on four points, with Iran one behind.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Isco confident team's style of play will reap results as battering ram Costa earns praise

KALININGRAD • Spain midfielder Isco believes his side must stay true to the philosophy and style of play that brought them World Cup glory in 2010 to achieve the result they need in today's Group B decider against Morocco.

After a breathless 3-3 draw with Portugal in their opening game, La Roja laboured to a 1-0 victory over Iran, and require at least a point in Kaliningrad against a Morocco side playing for pride after two defeats.

"We have to be faithful to the end to the style of play that defines us," the Real Madrid playmaker told reporters ahead of the game.

"We have to play, pass a lot, keep the ball. If we play quickly across the pitch, the chances will come."

Spain won a historic treble of European and world titles between 2008 and 2012 with a brand of possession-based football that came to be known as "tiki taka".

Along with Real team-mates Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio, Isco represents the cream of a new crop of Spanish talent looking to fill the void left in the national team after legend Xavi's retirement.

IT'S IN OUR DNA

We have to be faithful to the end to the style of play that defines us. We have to play, pass a lot, keep the ball. If we play quickly across the pitch, the chances will come.

ISCO, Spain midfielder, believes that "tiki taka" will exploit shortcomings in their opponents as long as the ball is moved around the pitch quickly.

"This is my first time in a big competition with the national side," he added. "I feel at ease but it's easier with all the big players in the side."

Playing behind first-choice striker Diego Costa, Isco has delighted Spain fans this tournament with his deft touch and vision, but the team head to Russia's European enclave knowing the job is far from done.

While they could progress with a draw, they would need to win and score more goals than Portugal in their match with Iran in order to guarantee top spot in Group B.

If the two European sides win by the same scoreline, top spot will be determined by who has the cleaner disciplinary record, with Spain currently on one yellow card to Portugal's two.

Iran, however, could also reach the last 16 if they spring a surprise by beating the Portuguese.

Morocco are already eliminated but Spain coach Fernando Hierro, who took the job only two days before the tournament began after the shock dismissal of Julen Lopetegui, has said that his team will not underestimate the North African side.

"This is the World Cup, and not one single game is going to be easy," said the 50-year-old.

"We can improve, and I hope we will keep winning but nobody is giving anything away easily.

"In certain groups, teams have already qualified (for the last 16) but our group is very tough. We have no option but to secure all three points against Morocco."

Besides Isco, Spain will be looking for their unlikely new World Cup figurehead Costa to strike again.

The 29-year-old has scored three of Spain's four goals in Russia, emerging as a surprise talisman after his travails at the 2014 World Cup, where he failed to have a single shot in two games as the holders were dumped out.

"He has understood that here, he doesn't have to touch the ball very much and he has focused on shooting," said Spain midfielder Koke, praising his Atletico Madrid teammate for finally finding his role in the Spain team.

"Instead, he stands out for his fighting spirit. He is most comfortable when he is battling with defenders. That's his speciality."

It is unclear if winning Group B will hand Spain an easier game in the next round where they will play the runners-up from Group A.

Hosts Russia and Uruguay also face each other today for the top spot in that group.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2018, with the headline ''Tiki taka' remains Spain's hallmark'. Print Edition | Subscribe