Accustomed to disappointments and letdowns over the years, Spain rewrote their FIFA World Cup™ history in Johannesburg on Sunday, Iker Casillas joyfully thrusting the Trophy into the night sky to cap an emotional evening for La Roja.
Spain's triumph at South Africa 2010 was a deserved reward for their possession football, talent, technique, hard work and, perhaps more than anything else, their unshakeable team spirit. "We are proud of all the players, of the ones who were on the pitch and the ones who were on the bench," said their proud coach Vicente del Bosque. "We have worked together for 50 days without a single problem. The squad haven't just thought about winning. They've kept a lot of other values in mind too."
Those values include a firm commitment to an attacking ethos based on one of the best midfield units in the game. "The momentum that led to this title has been building since the EURO 2008 win," added Del Bosque, modestly acknowledging the efforts of the architects of that triumph. "The World Cup has been a continuation of the work they did. All we've tried to do is maintain the excellent legacy they left us, keep the past very much in mind and follow the same line, while bringing new people into the team, which is an inevitable part of the process."
Humble to a fault, the former Real Madrid coach deserves his fair share of praise for Spain's first world title. A consummate tactician with an in-depth knowledge of the game, the unassuming Del Bosque works hard and keeps out of the limelight, qualities that helped him earn the loyalty and devotion of his players.
A strong work ethic
Although Spain's performances at South Africa 2010 did not quite match their displays at UEFA EURO 2008 or those of the qualification campaign, in which they won all ten of their games, Del Bosque's men showed great mental strength, a quality not always associated with the previous Spain teams on the big stage.
That determination came to the fore following the shock defeat by Switzerland in their opening game, which killed off any feelings of euphoria surrounding the squad. Rolling up their sleeves and getting down to work, Spain saw off Honduras and Chile with clinical efficiency to win their section, although the final scorelines in both games failed to reflect their dominance.
This is something you dream about as a child, winning a cup that you've seen Brazil, France and Italy win.
There then followed three hard-fought and narrow wins in the knockout rounds against Portugal, Paraguay and Germany. The victory over the South Americans, which finally ended Spain's quarter-final hoodoo, proved a particularly dramatic affair, with both sides missing a penalty and the Spanish scoring only after a sequence that saw the ball hit the woodwork three times. With another clean sheet against the Dutch, captain Iker Casillas conceded just two goals during the course of the competition, while David Villa played an equally important role up front, scoring five of his side's eight goals in South Africa.
Although Villa just missed out on the adidas Golden Boot, Casillas collected the adidas Golden Glove, undoubtedly the second most important piece of silverware he picked up on the night. "This is something you dream about as a child, winning a cup that you've seen Brazil, France and Italy win," he said after taking receipt of the FIFA World Cup Trophy. "It's something you see in videogames and on TV. It's something you see everywhere but can never picture happening to you. To be honest, I still can't believe it."
Casillas was far from the only member of the Spain squad struggling to take it all in. They had better start believing it, though. As of Sunday night, the global football family now comprises eight FIFA World Cup winners.