Spain began the World Cup as everybody’s favourites for the trophy. Since 2008 their football was expansive, fluent, charismatic and effective. The team had a coherent collective strategy supplemented with individual brilliance. Reliable and organised in defence, confident and capable in midfield and efficient and occasionally brilliant in attack, Spain had it all. Then the World Cup in earnest began and Spain started proving all their supporters wrong. They were nervous in defence, unsure of themselves in midfield and lethargic in attack. Were it not for David Villa Spain might well have not made it beyond the early knock-out stages. As it turned out David Villa scored the all important goals against Chile, against Portugal and against Paraguay. Game by game Spain were gradually improving.
In many people’s eyes Spain started the semi-finals as underdogs against Germany. In other people’s eyes they were still the favourite. That there should be no consensus in favour of Spain offered enough proof. Spain had deteriorated. In the space of 5 matches, against Switzerland, Honduras, Chile, Portugal and Paraguay, Spain had gone backwards. Everybody who had tipped them for the World Cup trophy was now questioning their wisdom. Spain were in the World Cup semi-final, the first in their history, and their supporters were unimpressed. Holland’s appearance in the final is a surprise because nobody expected them there in the beginning, although everybody ended up expecting them there after they defeated Brazil. Spain’s appearance in the final is a surprise because everybody expected them there in the beginning but everybody lost faith at some stage in the tournament. The team continually failed to flatter.
One corner and one Carlos Puyol goal later and all Spanish supporters believe again, their pre-tournament judgement appears vindicated. All of Spain’s goals in the tournament have been scored by Barcelona players (Villa, Iniesta and Puyol) but nobody who has watched Spain’s progression in this tournament could be forgiven for thinking they have been watching Barcelona mach2 in a new rioja strip. The team might look and sound like Barcelona but they don’t yet play like Barcelona. Three consecutive 1-0 victories is not the Barcelona way.
Before the tournament began everybody expected Spain to be the most exciting team to watch and it is a surprise that they are not. It’s not a surprise that they are in the final though. That too was expected.