MARACANA, RIO — What a party that was, the best one of my life. It lasted six years—spanning the European Championships in 2008 and 2012 and the World Cup in 2010—and allowed me to sing, dance and drink cava in places as far away as Vienna, Johannesburg and Kiev. And now it’s over following back-to-back losses to the Netherlands and Chile.
And after we all get over the mother and father of all hangovers, we will hopefully start to send out invitations to the next one—only this time, it will be without old friends like Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, David Villa and possibly even Vicente del Bosque.
Parties, like football teams, have a natural lifespan. People start to wind down, get tired, not enjoy the latest party as much as the previous one. Remember France in 2002, Italy in 2010? The English have a phrase for it, which is “after the Lord Mayor’s show."
Del Bosque was always between a rock and a hard place when picking his squad for Brazil. I will always believe he had no choice other than to give the players who had given him so much a chance to retain the World Cup. Can you imagine a national side without those names or the furore in Spain if he hadn’t picked them and Spain had still been eliminated?
Now, the time has come to sweep up the mess that all parties make, but before we do that, let's give a huge hug and our enduring thanks to all those magnificent entertainers who helped make the parties so much fun.
And what about the next major "do"? Let’s talk about it. We need new solutions, new levels, but let’s at least plan the future without abandoning the past. What we need is the same positional passing game, with pressure high up the pitch. In party parlance, while we might need a new band, or certainly new members in the band, there’s nothing wrong with the style of music.
Chile, who have adopted a style based on possession and pressure, only on this occasion with hungrier, fitter legs, are a warning that this type of football is far from dead (Chile conceded more possession than usual Wednesday).
In fact, the South Americans were winning before a ball was even kicked.
A cauldron-like atmosphere, with their fans breaking into an a cappella second verse of their anthem once the official music had stopped, stirred the heart and soul of all present and showed an appetite, a hunger, not unlike the one that Spain used to know.
In that moment, Chile knew that they no longer wanted to be the side that everyone liked. They wanted to be hated, to be feared, and their efficient performance against the world champions—and until the end of the final match on Sunday, July 13, that’s what Spain will be—was the perfect way of showing the world they are getting there.
Twice, before Spain even looked to have laced their boots up, Chile could have scored against a team that looked low on confidence, defensively disorganised and unable to play that high-pressure game that has for so long been their trademark.
Mistakes were inevitable, and when they came they were glaring. Alonso lost possession to let Chile in for the first goal and didn’t look to have the legs to rush back and try to save the situation. Like everybody else, he was shy, even scared. Atypical.
Passing was also wayward, as well as rushed, with Diego Costa too often the focus of the attack’s attention, and there was precious little by way of a threat coming from the wings or the centre. Spain were not patient enough to wait for their full-backs to arrive in forward positions. La Roja did not create numerical advantages anywhere. It was not tiki-taka. It was bad football.
Unfortunately, when Costa did get the ball, he didn’t manage to keep it or show the type of tenacity that he has all season in getting around the back of defences.
Casillas once again chose the biggest of stages to bring an ignominious end to his tenure, punching the ball out from a free-kick when a catch looked to be an easier option. Meanwhile, Andres Iniesta played too deep, making it difficult to link with the attack—although, to be fair, the introduction of Koke in the second half for the labouring Alonso worked better. But by then, of course, it was too late.
But now for the good news. Invitations will soon be going out for another major party, and the guests of honour will be Iniesta, Javi Martinez, David Silva, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Koke and a new selection of partygoers like Gerard Deulofeu, Jese, Thiago, Isco, Alberto Moreno, Saul, Oliver, Alvaro Morata and probably a few more who have yet to stick their heads above the parapet.
But that’s for another day. Now to drown my sorrows!