Richard Brook mourns the passing of passing for passing’s sake.

In affectionate remembrance of Spanish football, as we have come to know it, which died at Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, Brazil on 13th June 2014. It will be deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P. The body has been cremated by Chile on the 18th and the ashes will be taken to the Netherlands.

The above is of course adapted from another sports writer called R. Brook. His first initial stood for Reginald and he penned the famous 1882 obituary of English cricket in The Sporting Times that gave rise to the famous test series, between England and Australia, The Ashes.

The 5-1 obliteration of the Spanish national team, at the hands of the Netherlands, in the first round of the 2014 World Cup, might well herald the end of an era in the world game. If it does it will be of no lesser significance to global sport than the origins of The Ashes.

To be honest, if the Spanish style of play that has dominated the world game since 2008 is dead, then it was looking a little peaky in April. Ironically it was Spanish giants, Real Madrid sweeping aside Bayern Munich in a 4-0 Champions League rout that made the point so succinctly. Bayern, of course, are coached by Pep Guardiola, the man behind the possession-led footballing philosophy that we have come to know as tiki-taka.

Real’s demolition of Guardiola’s men was a heavy blow, but it did not feel necessarily fatal at that point. At various times throughout recent European football history Guardiola’s Barcelona team suffered setbacks that were hastily attributed to the end of tiki-taka. Time and again this proved not to be the case. However the fact and the manner Real’s victory just felt significant as a marauding, incisive attack triumphed comprehensively over passive possession.

The success of teams such as Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, as well as Jupp Heynckes’ previous incarnation of Bayern has reintroduced the notion that the tactics of choice do not have to involve neutral ball time, patiently dragging players fractionally out of position to open a pocket of space in which to play. Real’s destruction of Guardiola’s side galvanised the idea that the tide had turned and tiki-taka might just be in decline.

While for some that might have been cracks beginning to form in the cornerstone of the Spanish game, for many Spain remained a force to be reckoned with in the run up to Brazil 2014. The best odds you could get on the winners of Euro 2008, Euro 2012 and 2010 World Cup making it four major trophies on the bounce was 13-2. Such odds do not exactly reflect a long-shot given the fact that no European country has ever won a World Cup hosted in South America. Albeit most pundits were predicting tournament success for Brazil and Argentina, due to climate related factors, but Spain were the third choice of many in spite of Europe’s past under performance on this continent.

The wonderfully metronomic Xavi is now 34 and heading for the Barca exit.

There was a certain sense of poetic balance that it was the Dutch who seemingly nailed tiki-taka’s coffin lid shut. After all the Netherlands were Spain’s World Cup Final opponents, in South Africa, four years ago, as the Spanish proved that their European Championship victory two years earlier was not be readily dismissed. Winning the 2010 World Cup, as both teams sought their first World Cup victory, cemented Spain’s place as the major force in international football after winning their first European Championship since 1964, in 2008.

Consequently the 2010 finalists being drawn in the same group for 2014, looked a mouth-watering contest. Yet the match turned out to be anything but a contest as Netherlands comfortably defeated the country that had emerged triumphant from each of the last three major tournaments. The 2010 final is remembered for the ferocity of some of the challenges between the two teams, and one might have been forgiven for thinking the 2014 meeting was going to follow suit after some of the challenges in the opening stages before Diego Costa’s trailing leg was minimally caught by Stefan De Vrij in the area. Xabi Alonso gave the holders the lead by converting the penalty. Daley Blind’s excellent diagonal ball from halfway on the left touch line, brought stunning improvisation from Robin Van Persie. The Manchester United striker lobbed Casillas with a diving header, right on half time, and the Netherlands were on their way.

After half-time Blind again turned provider finding Arjen Robben in a central position. Robben beat the sluggish defensive partnership of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos to lash his shot into the centre of the goal. De Vrij bundled home a free-kick which had been missed by Casillas, who felt he was impeded by Van Persie. There was no debate who was at fault for the Netherlands fourth as Casillas mis-controlled a back pass and presented Van Persie with a tap in. Robben added the fifth as he beat Ramos for pace dragging it round Casillas, committed himself too early twice, before his fiercely hit shot left the defender on the line with no chance.

The Netherlands result might have been the emphatic statement that an era was at an end but the performance that would follow in a 2-0 defeat to Chile five days later both evidenced Spain’s inability to respond and sealed their ignominious exit from the 2014 World Cup. Chile are considered by some as dark horses for the competition but it is difficult to imagine that anyone expected they would deliver the fatal blow preventing the reigning champions progressing beyond the group stage. Yet that is exactly what happened as Spain looked even less effective than in their opening match, against a well organised Chile side.

It might be argued that Spain’s performance has more to do with an aging squad. Players like Xavi, Casillas and Xabi Alonso are all in their thirties. There is a possibility that a new generation of players might make those of us heralding the end of an era look like fools. That is undermined however by the shared themes in the tactics of the sides that are overcoming Guardiola’s method. The European club sides and the international teams that are succeeding against teams in the Spanish mould play in an organised, reactive way and attack very directly. That points to the fall of the possession based game, and indeed a new phase of tactical supremacy.

Playing styles and philosophies go in and out of style and tiki-taka may have its day again in the future, but with Spain’s under-performance at the 2014 World Cup and the humbling dished out to Bayern Munich, overseen by its innovator, it appears the dominance of tiki-taka as the tactic of choice for successful teams might be at an end. Burn the goal nets and let Spain and the Netherlands contest the charred remains – the ashes of tiki-taka.