Spanish delight

Over the years, Spain had built up a reputation of being underachievers in football. A nation of gifted players and great clubs, they were perennial quarterfinalists on the world stage. Not any more, not after their hard-earned World Cup triumph on Sunday night in Johannesburg. In a bruising final that was a poor advertisement for the sport, it was perhaps poetic justice that Spain ended up on the right side of a 1-0 scoreline against a team that seemed determined to take the rough route to top. The Netherlands, unbeaten in their previous 25 matches and playing their third final, were successful only in terms of the yellow card count. When it came to the game, Spain were decidedly better.

The Spaniards, indeed, were the best team of the World Cup, and played the game in the most pleasing of fashions. Brazil might have turned football into the ‘Beautiful Game’ but it is in Spain that its artistic values find the right expression these days. Those virtues — intricate passing with ball-possession as the key — were on full view as they waltzed through to their maiden final after recovering from a shock first-match defeat to Switzerland. That 0-1 loss might have raised visions of a familiar Spanish debacle, but Vicente del Bosque’s team showed it had the heart for the battle in subsequent matches. David Villa was the spearhead, Xavi and Andres Iniesta orchestrated the moves, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique were rocks in defence and under the bar, skipper Iker Casillas was almost unbeatable. Even in a disappointing final, Spanish flashes of brilliance were the saving grace as they touched the summit, adding the world champions’ tag to the European title they won two years ago.

Just like Spain, the host nation South Africa too emerged a winner from the month-long extravaganza, even though their campaign on the field ended early in the tournament. Right from the day they were awarded the World Cup, South Africa had been subjected to a flurry of questions related to their ability to organise an event of this magnitude. A soaring crime rate was more grist to the critics’ mill but as the dust settles down, the hosts can look back with a sense of pride on a mission superbly accomplished. Barring minor glitches, it was smooth sailing till the final whistle, and they deserve every plaudit coming their way, even as the Spaniards savour the sweet taste of success.

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