If no news is good news, then it's tempting to conclude that good news is no news at all. Not when it's this familiar, anyway, because when it's this familiar, the extraordinary becomes ordinary.
Spain has already qualified for next summer's World Cup finals, securing its place in South Africa with an eighth successive victory last month. A 3-0 win against Estonia in Mérida followed a 5-0 hammering of Belgium in La Coruña and offered yet another demonstration of the
During the fortnight of the last international break, the national team only made the front cover of the country's best-selling newspaper,
Real Madrid president
Inside, the papers were scrabbling around for something to fill their pages. One "story" showed how Madrid was on course to finish the season with a record tally of goals by racking up 110 -- something that, the piece helpfully pointed out, "Barcelona didn't manage." For those who wondered how the paper worked that out just one game into the season, it had factored in Madrid's preseason results too -- a method that would see Villarreal, 27-0 winner in one particular summer preparation game, on course for 400 goals or so!
Spain was not completely ignored, of course. And those covers that were dedicated to del Bosque's side expressed their delight, with
"Now go and win the World Cup,"
In a curious sort of way, it was also the biggest compliment you could pay the national side, the greatest of eulogies you could hand to del Bosque and his players. Maybe 'twas always thus. There was, after all, none of the scandal that the media loves, no meat, no bones to pick over. No confrontations or controversy, no shock results. Just very, very good ones. Again. There was just an excellent football team.
One columnist admitted that he "missed" the fun and games of the
In fact, what was most "normal" of all was the results. Tumbleweeds blew past where once there were furious dialectical battles driven by poor results. On one hour-long debate show, a pundit started to whine about how
So he was asked if he'd drop
Besides, three days later, Fàbregas did play. And he scored and played wonderfully. But he was not alone. Del Bosque made changes and yet the result stayed the same.
What alterations have been carried out have been done so smoothly as to alter nothing and that has bought the coach credit.
Everything is so, well, normal. Great results and performances are just what happen, and people have, to some extent, stopped noticing. It is a measure of just how successful Spain has become, how consistently excellent its performances have been, that so little fuss was made about it, how few arguments there were. And that is the thing, of course. Take a step back and what makes Spain extraordinary is the sheer relentlessness of its success.
When the Spaniards were beaten by the U.S. in the Confederations Cup semifinal, it was their first defeat in 36 games -- a joint world record. They had won Euro 2008 in incontestable style under Aragonés, and del Bosque had picked up where his predecessor had left off. Under him, Spain has won 18 of 19 matches and its record in qualifying stands at nine out of nine, with 23 scored and just three conceded. Though he has played in only eight group games,
However, one nagging doubt remains: Has Spain beaten any really great sides since the European Championship? With the exception of England -- beaten 2-0 in a friendly in Sevilla -- it is tempting to say no. But, off the back of its success at Euro 2008, results do make a powerful case to present it as favorites in South Africa. And it's not just about the results. Everything has all been done in style, too, with a confidence, a swagger and a conviction -- and one that hints at the fact that this side is even better than the one that beat Germany in Vienna.
As one columnist put it, Spain's destruction of Belgium was a retort, a message "for all of those who think it's not possible to play like the angels ... for those who think of football as a defensive pursuit ... for the Taliban of the tactics board ... for the coaches who lock away their creative players ... for those who don't like beautiful football." He would say that, of course, but he had a point.
Even defeated Belgium goalkeeper