Four years and two days after achieving glory with Spain at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, Carles Puyol is set to appear at another FIFA World Cup Final™, this time carrying out the trophy at the Maracana on Sunday, with the assistance of Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen. The act will set the seal on a superb career that ended last season, when the Catalan central defender retired due to his recurring knee injury problems.
In the countdown to Sunday’s showdown between Germany and Argentina, Puyol gave an exclusive interview to FIFA.com, offering his views on what it means to be returning the trophy, the standard of play at Brazil 2014, Spain’s legacy, and the Final itself.
FIFA.com: What does it mean to you to be carrying the FIFA World Cup trophy on Sunday?
Carles Puyol: It’s an honour. I never imagined I’d have the kind of career I’ve had, living a dream cherished by millions of children and doing what I enjoy most. Likewise, I never thought that the last act of my sporting career would be presenting the trophy at the World Cup Final. I am very grateful to FIFA for thinking of me. I’ve been lucky enough to play in the final of a World Cup before, but it’s always an amazing experience to walk out at a packed stadium. Though it’s a different occasion, I’m already feeling nervous about it.
But with Spain failing to make the Final, it won’t quite be a dream reunion for you, will it?
It was right at the start of the World Cup, before a game had even been played, that they came up with the idea of me presenting the trophy. Obviously it would have been perfect if my national side had reached the Final, but sadly things didn’t turn out that way. It’s something we just have to accept and the two teams that have made it deserve to be there. The Trophy will be in very good hands, whoever wins it. It’ll be a very well deserved title.
You’ve been world champions for four years. How will it feel to hand the trophy back?
We’ve been the world champions for these last four years, and winning it again was always going to be difficult. On Sunday we’ll need to start thinking about our preparations for the next World Cup. But our achievement is there in the history books. You don’t stop being champions and we’ll still have a star on our chests. When I return the trophy it’ll be impossible not to think of South Africa. We had an amazing experience four years ago. Every player dreams of winning the World Cup and there are very few who are fortunate enough to actually do it. I think we deserved it and we have a lot of memories, all of them good.
What’s caught your eye the most at this World Cup? Have you been surprised by any team or player in particular?
There are very few games I haven’t seen and what’s caught my eye is how even things have been. Teams have been showing each other a lot of respect. The only game in which we’ve seen a big difference between sides was the semi-final between Brazil and Germany. The result was totally unexpected, at least it was for me. Even in the Spain-Netherlands game, there wasn’t much between the sides in the first half. As for the teams, if I had to pick out one it would be Costa Rica. I didn’t expect them to go so far. Colombia were no surprise package for me because I thought they were a good side before the tournament began, even without (Radamel) Falcao. And the player who’s surprised me the most is James Rodriguez. He had a very good World Cup and showed how much character he’s got despite being so young.
A lot’s being said about the high standard reached by the teams at this World Cup. How much of an influence do you think Spain’s play over the last few years has had in that?
I’ve been lucky enough to play for the Spanish national team and Barcelona, two sides who’ve shown that you can play good, attractive, possession football and win major titles. That’s good for spectators, and both teams made their mark and created a legacy. I think a lot of people have taken note of what they did.
Germany and Argentina will be facing off in the Final, the Germans having just swept aside Brazil while Argentina have proved very solid in defence. Where will the game be won and lost?
Little details always count in finals and I think it’s going to be a great game. Germany have been playing really good football for quite a few years now, and they’ve been going far in competitions. As for Argentina, we were all going on about their fantastic attack at the start of the World Cup and pointed to their defence as the weak link. But they’ve proved to be a very solid side in which everyone does their bit.
Argentina have a different style to the Spain side of 2010 but if there’s one thing the two sides have in common it’s their ability to stop the opposition scoring. Is that more important than scoring freely, like Germany?
Well, if you can score seven goals, like Germany, that’s amazing. It’s very hard to do these days, though. That’s why it’s so important to keep clean sheets, like Spain did in South Africa and Argentina are doing now, especially as they have a few forwards who can make the difference and win games on their own.
As a fan, who do you want to win the title?
For me it’s hard to separate being a fan from the feelings you have for some of your team-mates. Germany are a great team and they’re playing some lovely football. They’ve been fighting for titles for years and they deserve it, but you can’t deny what your heart tells you, and I’ve got two friends in the Argentina team. I’m not supporting Germany or Argentina, but I am with Leo Messi and Javier Mascherano. Masche is a fantastic player and I’m not surprised by the tournament he’s having, and Leo is the best. He maybe just needs the World Cup to go down as the greatest of all time.