The end of the World Cup is like quitting smoking cold turkey, only you can’t cheat. No matter how hard you try, no matter how many old recordings you have of classic games, the sensation, the media overload, the frenzied tidal wave of live games cannot be reproduced. As the tournament progresses, the teams get eliminated, and the games get even tighter, you find yourself searching for an equivalent fix. But there’s no hidden pack in your car’s glove compartment. There’s no friend who you can bum a smoke off of. There’s just an old archive of youtube clips, a tome covered in dust wit a few words written about something that people back in the day thought was exciting.
Take a deep breath. And try to hide your disappointment.
We often approach the past as we do societies, creating a metanarrative with a set result in mind, reducing the individual and autonomy to mere wheels in the cog of a grandiose machine. Looking back at World Cup 2006, we always knew that Totti would bury that penalty kick against Australia with the Italians a man down and fighting for their life. David Terezeguet’s shot will always kiss the post, gifting Italy the title. Yet in the moment, we held our breath and said our respective hailmary’s.
To repeat the obvious – this truly is a golden generation of footballers for Spain. It seems like yesteryear that Figo was turning Puyol, Xavi was coughing up balls to Frank Lampard, and Sergio Ramos galloped up and down the flanks in Sevilla. Flash forward to 2006, when Spain held a 1-0 lead over France in the quarterfinals and dominated possession. Only a collective surge from the veteran midfield trio of Makelele, Vieira, and Zidane could asphyxiate Xavi and company, but you knew the seeds of greatness had been planted.
Tiki-tak. Juego tram tram. The Spanish game has a number of adjectives, some positive, some negative. My preferred metaphor has always been the anaconda – the furia roja keeps the ball and slowly wears down defenses both physically and mentally, preferring a safe pass backwards to a risky attack. Over the course of 90 minutes, a gap or two will open. A defender will slip or not step and commit an error. And then they squeeze their grip.
The Dutch defense grew tighter and compact as the game wore on, with De Jong and Von Bommel practically holding hands in the later stages and Schneijder rarely foraying into the attacking half. Robin Van Persie, starved of service, almost completed disappeared from the match. The only hope was the soccer equivalent of the Hail Mary, a long pass to Robben over the top. And it almost worked.
Robben the goat. Iker the savior. Take your pick of blame and credit and label the players as you deem appropriate. The harsh reality: the ball did not enter the net, and relying on balls over the top of Pique’s head was a low percentage strategy to begin with anyway. The red card for Holland was the stage cough, the forshadowing of an imminent demise. When the Dutch defense finally opened up and Iniesta got a half chance, nobody doubted he would bury it. This was a man that two years ago had dashed Chelsea’s dreams with a wonder strike deep in injury time.
Clutch. Brave. Persistent. Pick your label and place it on Iniesta, whose presence added an offensive spark to Spain when compared with last summer’s Confederations Cup. When looking back at World Cup 2010, Spain’s first star, and this golden generation of the furia roja, Iniesta’s right footed strike will fill the eyes with a shining example of timing and technique.
It’s a mere puff of the pipe, but it’ll have to do.