Spain Camp Focus - As immortality awaits, Spain must seize the moment
France broke quickly, and the ball reached Zinedine Zidane, who cut inside onto his right foot and buried an effort beyond Iker Casillas – eliminating Spain and ensuring that the French were through to the quarter-finals in the same moment. It was Hanover, the 27th June 2006, and Spain, forever the underachieving tournament chokers, had just been knocked out of yet another World Cup too early, leaving behind nothing but a trail of ripped up betting slips and regret. Enough was enough for the Spanish game – four years of change were about to start.
In a way they had already begun. Barcelona had been European champions for just over a month, Sevilla had crushed Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup final and would win an all-Spanish final against Espanyol a year later, some of Spain’s top players had already started making an impact abroad, but they were to be outshone by the spectacular success that Fernando Torres – that young, dynamic Atleti who was the symbol of his beloved Atlético Madrid – would enjoy in the Premier League after his move to Liverpool in the summer of 2007. David Villa and David Silva started tearing La Liga defences apart week after week at Valencia, Cesc Fàbregas became the heartbeat of Arsenal, Real Madrid’s Casillas turned into one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the world, Sergio Ramos one of it’s best defenders, Barcelona, and their plethora of Spanish stars, seemed to invent a new way of playing passing, probing, perfect football, and led by their midfield maestros Xavi and Andrés Iniesta they would win another European Cup in 2009. And then there was Vienna.
Oh Vienna. Torres’ winning goal in the Euro 2008 final against Germany wiped away all of Spain’s previous insecurities. They were now the top dogs in Europe and they knew it. All that was good about football would, in some way, be connected to Spain. They were on top of their continent. Now, finally, comes the moment where they can prove that they are on top of the world.
Spain’s players will walk out at Johannesburg’s Soccer City tonight fully aware that immortality awaits them. Just like the Netherlands, Spain has never won a World Cup before, but unlike the Dutch, they have never been this close. Prior to this tournament, the Spanish had never even been in a semi-final, and so as the Dutch have to come to terms with the pressure that comes with trying to avenge their 1974 and 1978 final defeats, there is no such baggage for La Roja, merely the chance to crown their four year progression in the most golden manner. It looks written in the stars.
Things have not been going completely smoothly in this tournament, yet here the Spanish are in the final. Their opening game defeat to Switzerland now looks to be the blip that everyone in Spain hoped it was, and the fact that the semi-final victory over Germany represented their best performance so far has led many to believe that they have peaked at the right time. Of course they will need to be at their best if they are to beat the impressive Dutch, who would be fully deserving winners of the competition in their own right, but in a different way. If it is to be orange tickertape that is blowing around Soccer City tonight, then it would be in recognition of the Dutch getting it right throughout their month in South Africa, that they had played the tournament perfectly. A Spanish win would feel like the coronation of the best team in the world.
Even the most casual of observers could probably name 21 of the 22 players who will take to the field to start the final tonight, but the giant, flashing question mark still hangs over the selection or otherwise of Torres. Vicente del Bosque simply ran out of patience with the struggling striker against Germany, and while his replacement Pedro played well – albeit with a disappointing lack of end product – it would no surprise to see Spain’s No. 9 restored to the starting XI tonight. Perhaps it would be better if he started on the bench though, as his impact in the closing stages of the match could be crucial, but Del Bosque certainly has a big choice to make.
Whatever he decides, every Spanish player will enter the pitch with full knowledge of exactly what they have to do. This moment has been four years in the making, but in reality it has been going on ever since a football was first kicked in Spain, a football mad country who have never been officially crowned as the best in the world at the game. That moment awaits, and if the Spanish players can grab it tonight, they immediately become immortals, forever responsible for their country’s greatest ever moment.