Extra TimeThursday, June 19, 2014
Last call for the team that won it all
Spain’s shock World Cup exit yesterday marks an ignominious end to a glittering six-year run during which the Iberian nation swept all before them to claim a debut global title and back-to-back European crowns.
Spain’s first major success came at the 1964 European Championship before fans of La Roja endured more than four decades of under-achievement that finally ended with a 1-0 victory over Germany in the final of Euro 2008.
Vicente del Bosque took over from the late Luis Aragones after that triumph in Vienna and the success continued.
A team built around stalwarts such as captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, midfielders Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fàbregas and forwards David Villa and Fernando Torres followed up with victories at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
Del Bosque has only had to make the odd tweak to his team and, with a host of proven champions theoretically still close to the peak of their careers, Spain were widely seen as having a decent shot at becoming only the third nation to successfully defend the World Cup after Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962.
It was not to be
Their tournament got off to a shocking start when the Netherlands inflicted the heaviest defeat on Spain at a World Cup finals in more than 60 years, a 5-1 drubbing that was sweet revenge for the Dutch reverse in the 2010 final.
Del Bosque kept his calm amid the prophecies of doom in the sports papers back home, just as he had done when Spain slipped to a surprise 1-0 defeat by Switzerland in their opening group game in South Africa four years ago.
He made a couple of changes to the team for yesterday’s match against Chile, dropping Xavi and bringing in forward Pedro and replacing centre back Gerard Pique with Javi Martínez.
However, Spain were simply not up to the task and their South American opposition looked hungrier and fitter and ran out deserved 2-0 winners.
It was somehow fitting that the end of Spain’s triumphant run at the top of the world game came on the day Spanish King Juan Carlos I formally stepped down to hand over power to his son, Prince Felipe, after a 39-year reign.
The holders have been humiliatingly eliminated in the opening round of the subsequent finals four times before and as recently as Italy in 2010 but never have they lost both their opening group games.
The sight of a floundering Casillas surrendering possession and allowing Robin van Persie to score in the Netherlands game, or Sergio Busquets skewing a chance wide early in the second half on Wednesday when it seemed easier to score left supporters back home in mute shock.
The scale of Spain’s astonishing failure can be measured by the fact that in 19 matches on the way to winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 they conceded a mere six goals, one fewer than they have so far in Brazil in two games.
Del Bosque’s task now is to rediscover his golden touch and rebuild the team before they defend their European crown in two years’ time.
Many of the players who have helped Spain become one of the most successful nations in the history of the game, including Casillas, Xavi and Alonso, will almost certainly be absent from the tournament in France and there are a number of young pretenders waiting for their chance.
David De Gea is being groomed to take over in goal, while Koke, who came on as a substitute at halftime yesterday, is seen as a natural successor to Xavi.
Del Bosque will also be counting on Brazil-born forward Diego Costa reproducing some of the form that helped his club Atlético Madrid win their first La Liga title in 18 years and reach the final of the Champions League last season.
Players like Fàbregas, Sergio Ramos, Martínez, Pedro and Busquets still have much to offer, while fullbacks Jordi Alba and Cesar Azpilicueta are in the early stages of their international careers.
It may take a while for Spain to recover from the painful experience of Brazil 2014 but there is certainly reason for hope it can be a temporary setback rather than the start of a long period of decline.
For Spanish fans, they at least have the memories of six glorious years when their team were on top of the world.@iaindrogers