Young Spain squad and its ‘tiki-taka’ stumble at World Cup

Dec 6, 2022, 1:08 PM | Updated: Dec 7, 2022, 3:11 am
Spain's players react after the penalty shootout at the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between ...

Spain's players react after the penalty shootout at the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

              Spain's Marcos Llorente jumps over Morocco's Romain Saiss during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
            
              Spain's head coach Luis Enrique, centre right bottom, hugs Spain's Alvaro Morata after the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
            
              Spain's players react after the penalty shootout at the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
            
              Morocco's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou stops a penalty shot by Spain's Sergio Busquets during a penalty shootout of the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
            
              Morocco's Hakim Ziyech, left, controls the ball past Spain's Pedri during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
            
              Spain's Marco Asensio is fouled by Morocco's Romain Saiss during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              Spain's Marco Asensio, top, and Morocco's Nayef Aguerd challenge for the ball during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
            
              Morocco's Sofiane Boufal in action against Spain's Gavi, bottom, during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Spain lost to Morocco 3-0 in a penalty shootout in the round of 16 at the World Cup on Tuesday, failing to make it to the quarterfinals for the third straight time since winning its last world title in South Africa in 2010.

La Roja also lost in a shootout in the last 16 four years ago, and it was also on penalties that it was eliminated in the semifinals of the European Championship last year.

EXPECTATION VS. PERFORMANCE

There were high hopes for Spain ahead of the World Cup after it did well at Euro 2020 and at the Nations League, where it lost in the final to France.

The expectations became even higher after a resounding 7-0 rout of Costa Rica in its opener in Qatar, when Spain’s young squad successfully brought back the “tiki-taka” ball-possession style that had led La Roja to triumphs in the past.

But Spain’s run in a major tournament ended in disappointment again after it struggled to translate its ball possession into goals. After the big win against Costa Rica, Spain played well against Germany but was held 1-1 after conceding a late equalizer. It then lost 2-1 to Japan when it needed a draw to win its group.

By finishing second, Spain apparently had fallen into an easier path by avoiding an encounter with 2018 runner-up Croatia in the round of 16, as well as possible matchups with Brazil and Argentina later on. Instead, it faced Morocco, which was one of the surprises of the tournament but had never made it to the last eight at a World Cup.

Spain controlled the game Tuesday but struggled to get past the well-organized Moroccans, who ultimately prevailed in the shootout after Pablo Sarabia’s penalty kick hit the post and Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets had their attempts saved by goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.

“It’s my responsibility,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique, who had asked his players to practice 1,000 penalty kicks while with their clubs. “I picked the first three penalty-takers.”

Spain’s only win in five penalty shootout attempts at a World Cup came against Ireland in the round of 16 in 2002. It was eliminated by co-host South Korea on penalties in the quarterfinals of that tournament.

Spain has won only three of its last 11 World Cup games since 2010.

WHO’S OUT

Busquets, the only remaining member of Spain’s World Cup-winning team, is likely to end his career with the national team, although he hasn’t yet officially announced his decision.

“Now the important thing is the team and not me,” said the 34-year-old Barcelona midfielder, who made his 17th World Cup appearance Tuesday to tie goalkeeper Iker Casillas and defender Sergio Ramos for the most matches with Spain in the tournament.

The future also was uncertain for other veterans in the squad, including Jordi Alba and César Azpilicueta.

Luis Enrique said one of his regrets in Qatar was not to have used 30-year-old Sarabia more often during the tournament.

Sarabia came on as a substitute just before the end of extra time “and he created two scoring occasions right away,” Luis Enrique said. “It was my mistake not to have used him more. It wasn’t fair.”

Luis Enrique did not say whether he would continue as Spain coach, saying he would “take some time to rest” before start making a decision about his future along with the Spanish soccer federation.

WHO’S NEXT?

Spain’s outlook is still bright as it brought to Qatar a talented squad that was the third youngest in the tournament. Among the starters were 18-year-old Gavi and 20-year-old Pedri, who both played well despite the team’s elimination. Gavi scored in the opener to become the youngest World Cup scorer since Pelé in 1958.

The other youngsters who will likely be regulars with Spain include Ansu Fati, Alejandro Balde, Yéremy Pino, Ferran Torres, Eric García and Nico Williams.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Spain is not expected to play again until qualifying for Euro 2024 in March, when La Roja faces Norway, Scotland, Georgia and Cyprus.

Despite the World Cup disappointment, Spain’s young squad should be favored to qualify from its group and again be among the contenders in 2024, when it will continue its quest to win its first major title since Euro 2012.

“We’ll pick ourselves up and use it as a learning experience,” Busquets said. “We’re in a good dynamic, with young people. This is going to make them stronger.”

___

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Tottenham's Harry Kane greets supporters after the English Premier League soccer match between Fulh...
Associated Press

Harry Kane has records in sight, but trophies elude him

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Harry Kane will become Tottenham’s all-time leading scorer with a goal against Manchester City on Sunday. The striker’s wait for a major trophy, however, will go on. Kane is set to surpass the late Jimmy Greaves’ club record of 266 goals, which has stood for 53 years. He is also tied […]
1 day ago
FILE- Gene Sykes claps after City Council voted 12-0 to endorse documents at the heart of its plan ...
Associated Press

USOPC: Russian pathway possible, but sanctions must remain

The new leader of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee reiterated the federation’s support for exploring a way for Russian athletes to compete at the Paris Olympics as neutrals, while insisting the current sanctions against the country remain in place. Gene Sykes, who took over for Susanne Lyons as USOPC chair on Jan. 1, wrote […]
1 day ago
Dallas Stars' Jason Robertson celebrates after scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL hoc...
Associated Press

All-Star festivities showcase next generation of NHL stars

New Jersey Devils players watch from the bench often and marvel at some of the things Jack Hughes can do on the ice. “Every game, at least a couple times, I’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, that guy’s amazing,'” forward Michael McLeod said. “He just gets it done every night.” The same goes in Buffalo, […]
1 day ago
Youth team players warm-up ahead of the Black star water polo competition held at the University of...
Associated Press

Ghana water polo grows as sport looks for more diversity

Back at the very beginning, right when the idea of water polo in Ghana started swimming into reality, Asante Prince got out a couple of balls and caps in front of a handful of curious kids. He decided to try a scrimmage, but he had no nets. So they put a soccer bench on each […]
1 day ago
FILE - Austria's Katharina Liensberger speeds down the course during the first run of an alpine ski...
Associated Press

Austrian ski team aims to rediscover its magic at worlds

VIENNA (AP) — Only one skier in the 24-member Austrian squad for the upcoming world championships has won on the Word Cup circuit this season. A star coach left the women’s team mid-January. And “crisis” has become a common word on the ski-mad nation’s sport pages. Has the once dominating “Wunderteam” from Austria lost its […]
1 day ago
FILE - Workers prepare to remove giant Olympic rings from the waterfront area at Odaiba Marine Park...
Associated Press

Tokyo Olympic bribery scandal rolls on; company apologizes

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese company embroiled in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic corruption scandal said Thursday it would strengthen oversight to prevent further wrongdoing. Kadokawa “seriously betrayed public trust,” company president Takeshi Natsuno said. He bowed deeply with two other executives to show remorse in a news conference. Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, the son of the founder, […]
1 day ago
Young Spain squad and its ‘tiki-taka’ stumble at World Cup