Spain dominates in distinctive way

Publish date:

Now, that is a postmatch interview. And what a difference a month makes.

At the end of Spain's first match at this World Cup, a 1-0 loss to Switzerland, Sara Carbonero was waiting in the tunnel for Iker Casillas, clutching a microphone. Now, for those who have not been acquainted with her, Carbonero is a journalist and interviewer with the Spanish television channel TeleCinco. She is also Casillas' girlfriend. Not that you would have known it as she held out the microphone and asked bluntly: "How did you manage to lose that?" Casillas barely looked her in the eye, mumbled some cliché and departed.

The following morning, a report in the British newspaper The Times claimed that the Spanish had blamed Carbonero for the defeat. The "Spanish Inquisition" had begun and she was the one burned at the stake. She had, the paper remarked, using the inevitable footballing idiom, been responsible for Casillas' taking his "eye off the ball."

The truth was rather different: The pair had been professionalism personified and pretty much no one in Spain blamed Carbonero. In fact, the Spanish reacted angrily to the report, rallying around her and hitting out at the English, which they accused, not for the first time, "of looking for trouble." And yet there was no escaping a basic fact: Spain had been beaten. The pre-tournament favorite had lost -- and to Switzerland of all teams. No country had ever won the World Cup after losing its first game.

It has now.

When Casillas went down the tunnel after Sunday's 1-0 victory against the Netherlands, a World Cup-winning captain and the star in the final, who made a vital save from Arjen Robben, Carbonero was again waiting for him. The smiles were broad but, again, there was professionalism. At least there was for a couple of seconds. Carbonero asked her first question and, as he thought about his mother, father and brother, Casillas' voice cracked. A tear prickled in his eye and he reached forward, kissed Carbonero and departed.

Carbonero stood alone, in front of the camera on the verge of crying. But she was not alone. Andres Iniesta, who dedicated his goal to Dani Jarque, the Espanyol defender who tragically died of a heart failure a year ago, was crying. José Antonio Camacho, the former Spain defender, now a commentator with Spanish television, the man who had greeted the goal with a shout of "Iniesta of my life," was crying. And so were all of his fellow commentators. "We can hardly talk," said J.J. Santos. Which is something of a problem for a presenter and match commentator.

The emotion was overwhelming. It is hard to do justice to just how huge this success is for Spain. Two hundred thousand people had gathered in Madrid to see Spain become world champion for the first time ever. And it won the World Cup final much as it did all of its knockout games:


With nervous moments and strokes of luck.

But, ultimately, deservedly.

Against Portugal, David Villa's winning goal looked dangerously close to offside. Against Paraguay, Spain survived a questionably disallowed goal for its opponent and a penalty that, as Xavi put it, "would have meant adios." And against Germany, Casillas had to make a sharp save at 0-0 -- and the winner came via Carles Puyol's header from a corner, a set play to reach the final. In all three matches, Spain had reached halftime without a goal; in all three, it had started to feel like the Spanish might never get one.

On Sunday, the wait was even longer. Spain had to wait until the 116th minute, when Iniesta scored. The Spanish have become world champions with just eight goals -- easily the lowest number in the tournament's history (the next lowest is 11), winning a solitary game by more than one goal -- 2-0 against Honduras.

Spain conceded only two goals in the tournament. When Italy did that in 2006, it was hailed as defensive geniuses. Fabio Cannavaro even won the Balón d'Or off the back of the success. According to the Castrol index, which combines a series of statistical measures to rank a player's performance, Sergio Ramos has the tournament's best ranking. In fact, Spain's back four are the tournament's top four. And that's despite the fact that in its approach Spain has not been a defensive side; as argued before the final, it has been a controlling one.

Even Holland's muscular, at times plain brutal approach did not -- in the end -- prevent Spain from adding the world title to its European one. In virtually every game it was confronted not by sides that sought to play but to prevent Spain from playing. In every game, Spain has sought goals. Without haste, without anxiety and without urgency, perhaps. But it has sought them. Spain might not have been quite as dazzling as some hoped, not quite as creative, not quite as much of a fantasy soccer team as some demanded, but it has -- in its own way -- dominated this World Cup.

Before the final, Jesús Navas had delivered more balls into the box than any other player at the tournament despite playing only 118 minutes, while Xavi had provided 25 goal scoring chances -- eight more than anyone else. Spain led in attacks -- more than 20 clear of No. 2 Germany and No. 3 Brazil. The Spanish ranked first in shots, solo runs and passes (more than 1,500 more, in fact), and they had the best pass-completion rate. No side averaged as many passes as Spain in 16 years.

Meanwhile, only Germany and Uruguay covered a greater distance and, before Sunday's war, which Spain largely handled impressively, only Korea had collected fewer cards.

In every game, Spain had more shots on target and more possession than its opponents -- including the opening-game defeat that could be written off as a freak result, with an 8-to-3 advantage in shots on goal and 63 percent of the ball. Only Chile had as many shots overall against Spain -- 9 each, but with fewer on target -- in the competition. Spain had 19 (10 on target) to Portugal's 9 (3); 16 (9) to Paraguay's 9 (4); and 13 (5) to Germany's 5 (2). In the final, Spain had 56 percent of possession and 18 shots to Holland's 13.

Yes, Spain lost at this World Cup, something that inevitably takes a tiny bit of the gloss off the success, but only one side didn't (New Zealand had three draws). And, yes, it struggled to get the goal in the final. But so did Germany in 1990, while Brazil in 1994 and Italy in 2006 didn't get it at all.

No one cares how Spain won; it is world champion. All over the country, fans just can't quite believe it. The emotion took over -- and not just for Casillas and Carbonero.

Besides, since when was a World Cup easy to win? In comparison to previous winners, Spain is an impressive victor. Until the final, Spain had not needed extra time and never been behind. In 2006, Italy needed penalties in the final and extra time in the semifinal, while in 1998, France needed extra time against Paraguay and penalties against Italy. In 2002, Brazil needed neither. And no one doubted that it was a worthy world champion. No one should doubt that Spain is either.