Tuesday, July 13, 2010
I’ve finally found something to post on the World Cup. Joe Posnanski’s SI piece, called The Glory of Spain, is part II of the psyche series. The article is written from the perspective of an American who was raised on the game, moved on, but motivated by the Spanish side to embrace his roots. I love the Cup. It’s my one television indulgence. Every four years I carve up my schedule to accommodate as many matches as I can. This year I even managed to pick the right team to root for.
To be honest I rooted for the US and Mexico, my home soil, first and foremost. But I held little hope of either winning the Cup. For that honor I wanted to see a side who hadn’t won before. Luckily Spain fit the bill and also happened to be my favorite team to watch. They play amazing and skillful football. Truly the beautiful game. Never mind if you only saw a final marred by fouls and think that’s proper footie. It was the Dutch solution to disrupt an unstoppable force. Posnanski sorts it out.
It was gripping because Spain didn’t win those 1-0 matches with thuggery or by playing everybody back deep or even with stout defense. No, they won matches with their sheer brilliance at keeping possession, passing the ball to each other, showing off their preposterous talents for handling the ball. You couldn’t get the thing away from them. The Spaniards were like pool hustlers running table after table, like Fast Eddie Felson in “The Hustler” who, when told by Minnesota Fats that he needed to quiet down and shoot pool, snapped off: “I am shooting pool, Fats. When I miss, you can shoot.” Yes, that was Spain — when they gave up the ball, you could have it. Only they didn’t give up the ball. Sooner or later, they would wear their opponents down with the sheer skill of their play. And once those opponents were properly worn down, Spain would strike.
Spain plays something called tiki-taka, or touch-touch football. They pass the ball around like a group of kids playing keep away. And they do it with such skill that the best players in the world can’t get it back. Sometimes it looks too cute, like they are more interested in putting on a show than scoring goals. But there’s a method to it. “When we finally did get the ball,” said Germany’s Miroslav Klose, one of the greatest goal scorers in Cup history, “we were too tired to do anything with it.”
“But the more you watched them play,” writes Posnanaski. “The more you realized that they were going for something slightly different from goals. They wanted their opponents hearts. They wanted to break will and spirit and hope. The winning goal, they seemed to understand, would come soon after.”
To be fair, Spain’s streak of 1-0 matches probably wouldn’t have happened with a different draw. En route to the final they came across a Swiss side in the midst of setting the record for most World Cup minutes without giving away a goal, a Portuguese team who had risen to #3 in the FIFA rankings purely by not allowing goals, and overachieving Paraguay who’d yet to give up a goal in the tournament, obviously motivated by one fan’s promise to run naked in the streets if they won.
It wasn’t all about Spain, of course. Great moments happened throughout the three weeks. The US winning its group in the dying seconds, the brilliance of Uruguay’s Diego Forlan, and Ghana’s spirited run getting heartwrenchingly snatched away too early are a few that come to mind. And we mustn’t forget the Dutch, now the best footballing nation to have never won the cup. This looked like their year. After all, they’d taken down Brazil, FIFA’s #1 team who until be baffled by the Orange hadn’t had a close match. But in the end, as Posnanski’s father told him, football is about the touch. And no one can touch a football better than Spain.