Spain had just defeated Portugal 1-0 and
Fat chance. There was no way
Spanish fans had grown annoyed with Aragonés' attacks on the man who followed him into the Spain job. When he said that Spain's opening match defeat had been "coming for some time," most considered his jibes bitter and opportunistic. Famously bad-tempered, he was still furious at his departure from the national team and sour at the way the RFEF handled the appointment of del Bosque, his successor.
And yet while they rallied around the current coach, while they appealed for unity and sniped at the snipers, bit-by-bit some Spanish fans and media commentators were struck by a worrying thought: what if the former coach was right? This had not been the best of World Cups so far. They had been beaten and even when they won they didn't win the right way. Their precise, short-passing style has been described as
Tuesday night, at last, it did. Certainly by the end, it did. Before the match Aragonés said that he didn't have much confidence in Spain. By the end of it, everyone else did. Before the game, he said Portugal might win "quite easily." By the end of it, Spain had. By the end of it, everyone was delighted. An occasionally nervy, heavy-legged first half -- the opening 10-minute burst apart -- gave way to an impressive second.
At half time, Spain had dominated possession but not found a way through against a side that had kept 20 clean sheets in their last 25 games.
Some could not help being reminded of the opening match against Switzerland, when a sucker punch, a goal that looked like a slapstick comedy routine, had condemned Spain to only its second defeat in 50 games. Everyone was looking at the possible changes, demanding them. Some wanted an extra midfielder to give them fluidity --
Few wanted Torres off for
Soon patience -- and the introduction of Llorente, who was excellent -- had its reward in the form of the kind of goal that many Spanish commentators like to think is the typical Spanish goal. There was plenty of
The moment the ball went in, the game was over. The moment the ball went in Spain became Spain. But Spain had been given the chance to become Spain by being Spain in the first place. If you see what I mean ... Portugal had to react but it couldn't. Not because the Portuguese are a bad side -- although they are not especially good and they're certainly not a team built to carry the game to the opposition; their tactics consist of waiting for the counterattack -- but because once the Spanish are in front they are an exceptional one.
There have been many myths built around
Eased of the burden of having to score, Spain settled into a mesmerizing rhythm. The final 20 minutes were frustrating for the Portuguese; they were gripped by impotence. "Spain move the ball well, they keep possession and they scored the goal," said the Portugal manager
Spain played a proper team, theoretically one of the tournament's strongest, and while a first goal for Portugal would certainly have changed things, it was a convincing win. In the end the Spanish boasted over 60 percent of the possession and had 10 shots on target to Portugal's three. The confidence, dented in the first three games, flooded back. Vicente was vindicated; the players, too.
When the final whistle went, the commentator shouted out: "We have seen the best of Spain, the Spain of the European Championships. We could not be happier." Down on the touchline, his pitch side reporter was talking to del Bosque, who dared to admit that his team was hopeful of "making history." Meanwhile, over on the other channel, Luis Aragonés said: "After half time Spain had possession and confidence. Quite honestly, they surprised me." But this time no one was listening.