Spain's Sweet Summer: Pau Gasol, Rafael Nadal and World Cup Team All Champions
Spain finally lived up to the hype and won its first World Cup. Sports fans in Spain have also enjoyed an NBA title from Spain’s Pau Gasol and a French Open/Wimbledon combo served up from Mallorca’s finest, Rafael Nadal.
The Lakers’ exciting Game 7 victory over their long-time rival Boston Celtics came just one day after Spain’s disappointing opening round loss to Switzerland in the World Cup. Mixed emotions seemed to be the perfect phrase to describe the face of Spanish basketball Pau Gasol’s feelings that night.
He couldn’t be happier to be a champion and to have dominated the way he did (19 points, 18 rebounds and 4 assists), but in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help but think about his country's team, the World Cup favorite, losing its opening match in Group Play to Switzerland.
“Of course its something you think about, but I had to worry about my play and my team, and am just so happy to bring this trophy back to Spain,” said Gasol when asked about how the loss affected his play.
Across the pond, another one of Spain’s favorite athletes, Rafael Nadal, was just arriving in London to prepare for Wimbledon when he watched his hometown team suffer in defeat. I’m sure he was glad for his fellow countrymen Pau Gasol, but Nadal’s real passion is unquestionably soccer.
Like Gasol, Nadal had to worry about himself, and that he did. At this time last year, Nadal saw his string of four consecutive French Opens come to an end with a fourth round loss to Robin Soderling. He then was forced to watch Wimbledon on TV because of his knee injuries. Having to sit back and watch Roger Federer win both the French Open and Wimbledon in 2009 motivated Rafa to come back better than ever.
Nadal went on to win both French Open tune-ups in Monte Carlo and Madrid, and he stormed through the field in Paris winning his fifth title at Roland Garros. As he arrived in London to prepare for Wimbledon, Spain’s loss to Switzerland may have had more of an effect on him then most think.
He struggled early at the All-England Club being pushed to a fifth set twice in his first three matches. He eventually found his rhythm and rolled through the rest of the draw without dropping a set to win his second championship at Wimbledon. Better yet, his football team had picked up the pace too.
On the verge of elimination after their upset loss to Switzerland, Spain faced Honduras and Chile in must-win games to round out group play. With Fernando Torres struggling, striker David Villa stepped up for the Spaniards scoring three out of Spain’s four goals in two victories over Honduras and the gritty Chileans. The two victories were enough for Spain to claim Group H over runner-up Chile and move on to the knockout round.
Goals were few and far between in the knockout stages but Spain—thanks to Carles Puyol and goalkeeper Iker Casillas—recorded three straight shutouts to advance to the country’s first ever World Cup Final. Puyol’s offense was actually what got Spain into the final as the defenders’ header in the 74th minute sent the Germans packing.
The final featured more of the same as the Spaniards dominated the game defensively, controlling the ball from the Dutch for 60% of the game. Spain’s defense held the Netherlands to zilch through 90 minutes while the offense continued to threaten but could not quite capitalize.
Almost 30 minutes of extra time had passed with penalty kicks approaching and the Spanish were still not on the scoreboard. That was until the 116th minute when Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta took a pass out of mid-air from Cesc Fabregas and drilled a rocket past Dutch goalie Maarten Stekelenburg to send Spain into Fiesta mode for months to come.
Fellow Spaniard athletes Nadal and Gasol made promises that if Spain made it to the finals they would be in attendance. Sure enough they were there and according to Goal.com, Nadal was quoted as saying in his broken English, “I cried like a little boy.”
“We have to celebrate for a whole year, because this is unbelievable. It is very difficult to repeat this.”
Among famous Spanish actors, politicians, and musicians stood seven foot Pau Gasol who according to FIBA.com excitingly said, “It was an awesome game, thrilling, and I have no words to describe what we have experienced, everything that we shared here in Johannesburg,” Gasol said.
“This team has settled a historic debt and gives us all hope to continue ever onwards. Many thanks to all of ‘La Roja’ for making us smile and making this summer a real celebration!”
Spain’s sweet summer couldn’t have come at a better time, as unemployment climbed to 20% this past month. Hopefully Gasol’s success, Nadal’s two Grand Slams and Spain’s World Cup victory will provide a glimmer of hope for Spain’s economy. Not to mention the Running of the Bulls starts today. Have fun Spain, you deserve it.
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