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This appeared on SB Nation Soccer the day after the final. Since no football has happened since, you can still enjoy it.
So the Balotellification of football hasn’t happened yet. Mario will have his day, but yesterday wasn’t it. Yesterday, and 2012, like 2010 and 2008, belonged to the Spanish collective.
For all their recordable brilliance, though, Spain owed us a performance to remember. Whether or not this was it, history will tell us: “I don’t think we’re ready to see what we have done yet” – Cesc Fabregas. Legacy is for later but, for me, Sunday’s final offered two moments which defined this era defining team, now.
First, Xavi slotted another ‘slide rule’ pass inside Italy’s left channel. Fernando Torres hared after it like it was 2008. Having converted a similar chance moments earlier, a fourth tournamental goal and guaranteed Golden Boot (#Redemption) looked a certainty. But it didn’t happen; or at least it didn’t happen like that. Instead Torres, having drawn Buffon, poked the ball back to his clubmate Juan Mata who, with his first touch of the tournament, swept it into an empty net. Which meant that, as well as securing a record 4-0 victory (no team had ever won a major final by such a margin before), Torres won the Golden Boot anyway.
When more than one player is the tournament’s highest goalscorer, the boot is awarded to the scorer whose goals are most generously supplemented with assists: prior to Sunday’s game, Mario Gomes with three goals and an accidental assist led the charts; after Sunday’s game, Fernando Torres with three goals and the most generous of assists (because he’d also played fewer minutes) was the winner. So Torres won the Golden Boot WITH A PASS. How typically perfect is that? With almost comical propriety, tiki-taka has not just redefined football, but goals too: the individual prize won by the collective move. And that is Spain.
What is also Spain, though, is the way Xavi was protected by a circle of his mates as Some Man stormed the pitch and tried to jack their party. Somewhat unnecessarily, Xabi Alonso takes a swing at Some Man, even while he is being ejected by Man in Hi-Vis. Which is a little unsavoury, really. Frankly, and you can call me a rank old traditionalist if you like, the Spain players should still have been shaking the hands of their defeated opponents/victims at this stage, not jumping up and down in a circle with subs and swinging at the poor.
This may not be that big an issue, and an incredibly consistent group that has just claimed its third consecutive international tournament is certainly entitled to enjoy the moment. But the sight of Fabregas and Silva lining up the rest of their cohort on the touch-line, ready to ‘start the party – ASAP’, left a bitter taste beyond the flat Peroni (other originally fizzy lagers are, of course, available). Iker Casillas, captain of Spain, apparently a saint and an all-round class act, seemed to know this and did the rounds, graciously acknowledging the part that ten-man Italy had played in his side’s opus.
But Casillas is a goalkeeper, the least Spanish of positions. Though he did play some lovely passes, the captain is at one remove from the tiki-taka that has taken over the world. His position as permanent observer seems, on this admittedly limited evidence, to have given him an appreciation of tiki-taka as sport which its actual protagonists have forgotten. For them, it seems, it’s all about us.
Look at that huddle. Just as much as Torres’ passgoal, it encapsulates this Spain: a selective group, protected by a tacit violence, enjoying itself while its excluded and ignored opponents weep.
And that, in two moments, is that. Spain are a great team, and beautiful, but they are not loving and so, at least by this column, are not loved.