HERE at Euro 2012 the alarm bells rang again when people yelled "boring" at their television screens as the Iberian derby between Spain and Portugal crawled towards penalties. "Sterile domination," the cry went up. "Tiki-taka tedium." And all because David Villa’s leg-break deprived the world and European champions of their normal goalscorer.
Granted, 4-6-0 is not a formation to thrill neutral hearts. Endless ball circulation can be pushed to an excitement-quashing extreme. But which boring would we prefer: 46 years without reaching the final of an international tournament ( England) or three finals in a row ( Spain)?
Even the worst Premier-League-is-best zealot cannot withhold credit from a country who could be the first in history to win three consecutive titles — European Championship or World Cup.
Not since West Germany in the 1970s has a nation reached a trio of finals.
Spain have done so here with less of the pomp and circumstance of 2008 and 2010. In those two summers the Spanish knife was always glinting in the sun.
Tiki-taka was the sadistic prelude to the kill. This time, admittedly, the bull is offered tea and cake. We wait, we wait. The ball moves left and right and around. Xavi polishes up his pass completion stats and nothing happens. The fed-up English yawn.
Call it monotonous if you will, but not from an English standpoint, because Spain have one virtue that continues to elude the players Roy Hodgson took to Krakow.
They have learnt the vocabulary of the game. They possess the fundamental technical skill of ball retention, the basic survival mechanism, without which no team can hope to leave a worthwhile mark in history.
They prevailed by not having the ball in the first place, and attacking expertly in the brief phases when possession was regained. That is not the same as the technical illiteracy that afflicts English players when 11 of them are yoked together for a big tournament knock-out game.
They may not be using possession excitingly at this tournament but Spain’s mastery of passing is their national insurance; and in this tournament they have passed more relentlessly because they know they are weaker in vital areas.
Fernando Torres has regressed since 2008, when he scored the winner in Vienna, and Fernando Llorente has drifted from the picture. Which left Alvaro Negredo, once coveted by Hull City, to make his tournament debut against Portugal.
“ David Villa, our historic goalscorer, is not here,” Xavi pointed out early in the tournament (the little master’s pass completion rate on Wednesday night: 97.2 per cent). Plainly no allowances are made for manpower problems where champions are concerned. They are expected to roll right on.
Yet ‘soporific’ Spain have won nine tournament knock-out games in a row and are unbeaten in 19 competitive fixtures. The author of their Pananka penalty kick against Portugal was a defender: Sergio Ramos.
As recently as a year ago, tiki-taka was being talked about like a solar eclipse for the rest of football. No one would survive its beautiful cruelty.
But always in sport, dominance provokes a response. Monopolisation of the ball has already been broken by Real Madrid in La Liga and Chelsea in their Champions League semi-final triumph over Barcelona.
The doctrine now looks a bit frayed. Yet give me the basic urge to see football as a passing game any day over the retrograde calls to get the ball forward to “the big man and put it in the mixer”, as Liverpool’s Charlie Adam tweeted during the England- Italy game.
Without a revolution designed to turn one Paul Scholes into a hundred capable of playing the game properly the cry of “boring” will always sound like English insularity.
During this tournament a better balance has emerged between passing and strength and power. The clever countries know they will have to master both.
But while the English shout “fight, fight” in the schoolyard where Fabio Capello is squaring up to Wayne Rooney for questioning his communication skills, another tournament is drawing to a close without them. Two things that really do get boring? Losing. Getting knocked out.