Ever get the feeling that fate is on your side, that destiny is yours? No, of course not. Stupid question. Mostly, we can't help but think that fate is somehow conspiring against us; that it's just not going to happen. Not through any fault of our own, naturally, but because someone, somewhere has it in for us. And when it came to soccer and the World Cup, mostly Spain felt that too. In fact, it was temping to conclude that the Spanish were obsessed by it. It didn't matter how the national team played, bad luck, bad refereeing and bad tackles -- or a wicked combination of all three -- would conspire to defeat them.
Not any more. Now, the feeling is that whatever fate throws at them they can overcome. That even three posts, the ball bouncing round before hitting the net like Teenwolf's final, slow motion shot, can't stop them. Now, some even dare to believe that destiny is theirs. Even if the referees aren't -- even if the referees, to judge by the sports media here, are grimly determined to sink the Spanish. Before Saturday night, Spain had never reached a semifinal of the World Cup before. True, they were fourth in 1950 but that actually meant finishing bottom of a four-team group from which the finalists were chosen, not playing a semifinal. Four times they had been in a quarterfinal but it proved an insurmountable barrier.
In Italy in 1934, it lost in a replay to the hosts, with Spain's goalscorer
Then there was 2002, when Spain believed itself to be the victim of a conspiracy to ensure that host South Korea would reach the semifinal. Referee
This time is different. This time, Spain have reached the semifinal. Even if they don't win the World Cup now, this generation of players -- which, for all the sob stories of the past, for all the excuses and mitigating factors, is simply far better than any that went before -- have already made history. On Sunday morning, every newspaper in the country led on Spain's victory over Paraguay. "Histórico", cheered
By reaching the semifinal, by going further than they have ever done before, Spain has fulfilled its obligations. The weight of history was already removed from its shoulders by winning Euro2008, now that feeling is enhanced. The weight of expectation has dissipated too. And the weight of criticism. Spain still has not played as well as anyone would have liked at this World Cup, but that was washed away by reaching the promised land. If they do not win the World Cup now it will be a disappointment; if they had not reached the semifinals it would have been a failure.
(Whether that judgment is right is, of course, another issue: it could be argued that in terms of its play Spain has not had a great World Cup; that a semifinal place masks a relatively unremarkable campaign so far).
Not that Spain want to stop here. History has more repaying to do. More to the point. This team has more to give. Getting here has increased the sense that Spain can go further -- just as
Look at it like this: after its opening-game defeat, the country's best-selling newspaper led on "the same old Spain?" but since then, everything seems to be falling into place. Fate is dealing a tidy hand. Spain has not been at its best, but it has not mattered. Even the tennis omen looks good. The only other time
In the second round, Spain avoided Brazil and the side that Del Bosque was concerned about, the Ivory Coast. In the quarters, Italy wasn't awaiting. Brazil is out (the day they were defeated by the Netherlands,
But, still, it
On the evidence so far, the key could well be who scores first -- both sides have proven that with the lead they are extremely hard to defeat. Germany because its counter-attacking game means it's dangerous when the other side is stretched. Spain because, liberated from the need and the anxiety to seek a goal, it can do what it does better than anyone else: keep the ball, effectively anaesthetising the opposition. It is not entirely coincidental that Spain and Germany have found themselves behind just once each so far. And that both sides lost when that happened, against Serbia and Switzerland respectively.
That suggests an advantage for Germany, who have found the opening goal easier to come by: the Germans scored after eight minutes against Australia, 20 minutes against England and 3 minutes against Argentina; Spain struggled to get the breakthrough, scoring in the 63rd minute against Portugal and the 83rd against Paraguay. But then Spain have defended far better than Australia, Argentina or England; both as a back four and, more significantly, as a collective. As German coach
There is also a feeling that -- contradictory though it sounds -- Spain are better off playing stronger sides. Rather than having to unlock a tough, aggressive, organized side that comes to defend, it should suit them (and, incidentally, Torres in particular) to face a team that will open up and play. There will be no bus parked on the German goal line. For the first time at this World Cup Spain go into a game not being clear favorites. And, oddly, that's been taken as good thing. Much like everything else that has happened at this historic World Cup so far.