No.9: Andres Iniesta Wins It For Spain (South Africa, 2010)
Spain lost their opening game of the 2010 World Cup against Switzerland.
There were stratospherically high hopes for Vincent Del Bosque’s side after their win in the European Championships had coincided with the blossoming of world class talents like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Fernando Torres.
But they lost their first game. For all their technical wizardry, for all their possession, they couldn’t break down as an assembled mass of Swiss players.
I recall in the aftermath of that game, La Roja’s chances in the tournament were almost immediately written off. Radio shows seemed buoyed by their apparent failure, insisting there was nothing to fear from this side.
It just felt as though after such a sustained period of Spanish dominance—they’d put together an incredible run in the build-up to the tournament—outsiders were clutching at something, anything to suggest they may not be quite as immaculate as everyone thought. It all felt a little desperate and majorly preemptive.
Spain regrouped, winning their next two games against Honduras and Chile with a swagger. They finished top of the group; their initial conquerors Switzerland went out, finishing third.
Del Bosque then proceeded to mastermind this team’s passage through the knockout phases. Such was Spain’s technical superiority, teams would sit deep against them, surrendering little space in advanced areas. But Spain proceeded to play with forensic precision and unshakeable patience.
They won 1-0 against Portugal in the last-16, 1-0 against Paraguay in the last four and 1-0 against Germany in the semi-final. In the final, they were set to meet the Netherlands in a game many expected be a feast of free-flowing attacking football.
But Bert van Marwijk’s team employed some extremely rough tactics, clattering into their opponents with robust challenges at almost every opportunity. Referee Howard Webb issued 14 bookings in the game, the most ever in a World Cup final
Spain though, kept their cool in the main. Even as the game went past the 90 minute mark and into extra-time. With penalties looming, just four minutes from the end, Cesc Fabregas played the ball into the feet of the man of the match, Andres Iniesta:
What happened next?
Spain had won their first World Cup and the nation rejoiced. Iniesta lifted his shirt to reveal a tribute to Dani Jarque— the Espanyol player who tragically died in 2009—which read “siempre con nosotros”. Always with us.
Whilst the Spanish players were heralded as heroes across the nation, the Dutch were heavily criticized for the tactics they employed. Johan Cruyff, who was one of the pioneers of Total Football, branded their efforts as “very dirty”, “ugly” and “vulgar”.
The Dutch failed to recover from that defeat. Unable to successfully usher in a new generation ahead of Euro 2012, they lost every game at that competition.
La Roja just keep on marching on, though. They retained their European title in 2012, sweeping aside Italy 4-0 with a stunning display in the final. If they triumph in Brazil, it’ll be their fourth major title in succession in a row, and that would surely be enough to see them cement their status as the greatest international team of all time.