Spain’s campaign here at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ has been punctuated throughout by the goals of David Villa, the safe hands of Iker Casillas, the vision of Xavi and the wizardry of Andres Iniesta. Yet La Roja’s run to the Final has also been based on a rock-solid backline and a hard-working and creative centre, embodied by the holding midfield Sergio Busquets - an integral part of Vicente del Bosque’s tactical set-up.
Indeed, Del Bosque’s use of two deep-lying midfielders in Busquets and Xabi Alonso, a move which was perceived in many quarters as being overly defensive, has looked ever more astute as the tournament has progressed. By putting pressure on opponents, shielding the defence, starting moves, closing down space and winning back possession, the duo have helped ensure Spain’s goal has been breached just twice in six games.
"I don’t keep count of how many balls I win back, though I do sometimes take a look at my match stats," said Barcelona starlet Busquets, set to turn 22 five days after the Final against the Netherlands. "The only thing that really matters is that the team wins. So as long as that happens I’m happy."
Busi’s imposing presence proved crucial in La Selección’s 1-0 semi-final victory over Germany, when he worked tirelessly to cut off Die Nationalmannschaft’s attacking threat. Nor was he absent from creative duties, with the rangy youngster starting moves from deep and recording an impressive 92 per cent pass completion rate – his team’s third-highest percentage. "Everybody likes to be valued and praised but the team is what counts. I’d rather win the World Cup than take all the plaudits for my individual displays."
Given his big break at Barça in 2008 under coach Josep Guardiola, Busquets has gone from strength to strength ever since. Handed his senior national-team debut in April 2009, within months he had effectively replaced Brazilian-born midfielder Marcos Senna, who had been such a key part of Spain’s UEFA EURO 2008 triumph. Impressive during La Roja’s run to the semi-finals of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009, Busquets has also won every major honour there is to win at club level during his relatively brief time in Barcelona’s first team.
Next on the agenda is helping his country lift the FIFA World Cup on their first appearance in the Final of the global showpiece. "The Netherlands are a great team. They’re very effective on the break as they have very quick forward players. I think that [Wesley] Sneijder is always behind their most dangerous moves, because he’s the one who pulls the strings for them in attack. But we’ll do our best to stop him playing," said Busquets of the Inter Milan schemer.
"It’s going to be a very difficult task though. Every game is harder than the last and a final even more so. I think the two best teams at this tournament have reached the final. All we need to do now is play to our strengths and give it everything we’ve got."
‘Back to our best’
Ahead of Sunday’s title decider, what was Busquet’s verdict on La Roja’s dominant display against Germany? "Spain were back to their best, it was our best performance of the tournament so far. I think that teams are bound to go through difficult phases at a competition, but against Germany we kept the ball, dictated the tempo and the play and created a lot of chances.
"They had been the in-form side going into the semi-finals, and they looked very good on the break and racked up some big wins. We were able to stop them, however, and managed to play to our strengths," continued Busi, who nevertheless chose to highlight a continuing theme: Spain’s lack of goals: "Perhaps we should have won by more, but we’re not going to obsess about it.
"We’d be more worried if we weren’t creating chances or playing good football, but that’s not the case. We’ve not scored many goals partly thanks to opposing keepers and partly because our finishing has let us down, but getting through each match is what matters."
And such is the level of desire in the Spanish ranks that, with even the finals’ five-goal joint top scorer Villa unable to make the breakthrough, up stepped defender Carles Puyol to outleap team-mate Gerard Pique and a clutch of much taller German players to head home a 73rd-minute winner. "It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as someone scores," said Busquets of his team-mate for club and country.
"And there’s nobody more deserving of a goal than Puyol. He can do anything. He’s one of the best defenders in the world and, given this is sure to be his last World Cup, let’s hope he has happy memories of this tournament after all he’s done over the course of his career."
Does the midfielder feel that the naming of seven Barça players in Spain’s starting line-up against the Germans was a factor in their cohesive performance? "The footballing philosophy and playing style are very similar with both my club and La Selección. In my opinion that’s a real bonus, because things come much easier when you’ve been working alongside your colleagues for the whole season."
Finally, what does experienced coach Del Bosque feel Busquets brings to the mix? "He’s an all-rounder, he’s always willing to help the team, he’s unselfish, he defends tirelessly and he’s at the heart of many of our moves. And when he’s playing well we play more fluid football," said the former Real Madrid supremo, before a final word on the Busquets-Alonso double act. "They are extraordinarily committed to the team. They’re on top of everything, whether it be the full-backs, the centre-backs or the forwards. It’s like having coaches out on the pitch."