Spain’s 1-0 defeat of the Netherlands last Sunday earned them membership of the exclusive club of FIFA World Cup™ winners and also took them to the top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for the third time since its inception.
The Spanish first hit the heights in July 2008, following their success at UEFA EURO 2008. Their reign would last a year, and came to an end when they were dethroned by Brazil, the winners of the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, a competition in which Spain had to settle for third place after losing in the semi-finals to USA. That loss ended La Roja’s 35-match unbeaten run, one that equalled Brazil’s world record, and prevented them from lining up against A Canarinha in the final.
Despite that disappointment, Vicente del Bosque’s side remained loyal to their footballing principles and put together a flawless South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign, winning all ten of their matches, a sequence that took them back to first place in the Ranking in November 2009. Dunga’s Brazil team nudged them off the top again in April and May this year, though Spain’s triumph in South Africa and A Seleção’s quarter-final exit has seen the two swap places again.
A new era
South Africa 2010 marked a major change in Spanish fortunes in the FIFA World Cup, a tournament in which they have always flattered to deceive. The men in red can now put memories of their quarter-final exits at USA 1994 and Korea/Japan 2002 behind them, not to mention their disastrous showing at France 1998, a tournament they went into in their lowest ever Ranking position of 25th and in which they failed to advance beyond the group phase.
The talented new generation of Spain players have worked hard to erase memories of those setbacks, ending a 44-year trophy drought in Austria and Switzerland in 2008. That was the prelude to their dramatic exploits in South Africa, when they overcame their quarter-finals hoodoo, proved too good for Germany in the semi-finals and edged out a gritty Dutch side in the Final courtesy of Andres Iniesta splendidly taken extra-time goal.
“If there’s something we should feel proud of, it’s the fact we haven’t changed our style of play,” said David Villa, one of the architects of Spain’s triumphant march to the world title, with five of their eight goals. “Other teams changed their game against us but we’ve always stayed loyal to our principles. Even when we found ourselves in close-fought matches we stuck out our philosophy and that’s just one of the reasons why I think we are worthy champions.”
Aside from their commitment to an aesthetically pleasing brand of possession football, there is another factor behind Spain’s recent ascension to the pinnacle of the world game, as Villa also explained: “We are all pulling in the same direction, and we are all working for the good of the national team and not ourselves as individuals. I’m proud to be part of this generation of footballers, who are people first and foremost. We can achieve anything with them.”
With an average age of only 26 years and six months, Villa and his cohorts have time on their side as they look to add to their growing collection of honours and extend their reign as the kings of world football.