After a thrilling—albeit exhausting—Champions League winning season for Real Madrid, a World Cup tournament loomed large for many of its star players. Nearly all of Madrid's regulars were set to feature in Brazil, with most projected to play deep into July.
Yet, just into the knockout phase, most of Madrid's players were already on holiday. Spain's epic collapse against the Netherlands followed by a weak display against Chile was enough to see the defending champions crash out of the tournament early.
Despite a win against Australia in the final game of group play, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas were all sent home after conceding seven goals in three games. It was the first major tournament since the 2006 World Cup that they had not finished as victors, and it was an incredibly abrupt ending to what has been regarded as the golden age of Spanish football.
In significantly less embarrassing fashion, the Portuguese were unable to navigate the "Group of Death" and advance to the last 16. A less-than-fit Cristiano Ronaldo struggled to find the ball in their opening match against Germany, as his side slumped to a 4-0 defeat. Pepe's moment of madness earning him a reckless red card was partially to blame, but the whole team was responsible for the result. Ronaldo and Co. were simply ineffective on offense, unable to make use of what little possession they were offered.
Despite a late draw against the United States followed by a victory over Ghana, Portugal too found their World Cup aspirations unattainable, and their stay in Brazil cut short.
Among the causalities for Madrid were Ronaldo, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao. Suddenly, after the very first round of the competition, Real Madrid had watched seven players bow out (Luka Modric and Croatia played well but were unable to advance). The club were left with just five players still competing: Marcelo, Angel Di Maria, Sami Khedira, Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane. This display was disappointing, without a doubt, but somewhat understandable after such a grueling domestic season.
But, as it turns out, Madrid might just say a thank you to the Footballing Gods. It's true that World Cup success is extremely valuable, and progressing deep in the tournament helps grant experience to players young and old. However, with a team like Madrid, one riddled with injuries for much of their season, an early start to vacation may be just what the squad needs.
Ronaldo, Alonso and Varane are just a handful of Madrid players that missed time due to injury this year, and it looks as if Di Maria and Coentrao have picked up injuries at the tournament. These type of fatigue and fitness-induced ailments need proper time to fully heal.
While injuries affect nearly every team, Madrid will be thankful for the extra rest ahead of training camp. It will give the players a chance to physically recover and mentally unwind. A healthy set of superstars and possibly some new additions to the squad will certainly give Los Blancos a leg up on the start of the new campaign, just a month away at this point.
So while most of Madrid is back home, resting and preparing for the year ahead, many of its European competitors will come into camp with weary legs. Though Madridistas might be disappointed with the lack of representation in the most successful sides in Brazil, they should reap the rewards of added time off in the coming year.