a look back at the World Cup (I)
Several days ago, Marca started running a series to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the greatest triumph in Spanish football – the World Cup – to coincide with the month that Spain spent in South Africa. Each day, they dedicate several pages of the newspaper to looking back at what happened and revealing new anecdotes. So, here are the interesting and perhaps previously unknown things that they’ve published so far.
Vicente del Bosque – “What was the first thing I thought when Iniesta scored in the final? Do you want to know?” VDB smiles before answering. “I’m going to be sincere. The first thing I did was look at my assistant on the sideline. Then I remembered Bilic, Croatia’s coach.” This shows the mentality of the Spanish coach, because, if you remember, in the last Eurocopa, Bilic celebrated Klasnic’s goal in the 119th minute as if they had won the title. But in the extra time, Senturk tied the game and Turkey won after the penalty round. Del Bosque didn’t want anything similar to happen and so he kept his composure: “I looked at Toni Grande, who always remains calm. My worry was that we had already taken Villa out, and so we had lost a hypothetical penalty kicker. Toni was in charge of this. At the same time, I had the hope we would be able to avoid this, because we were up one man.”
Fernando Hierro – he has first hand experience with the failures of Spanish football in recent World Cups. He suffered through the round of 16 curse in Italy 1990, the elbow to Luis Enrique four years later, watched the ground open up beneath his feet in 1998 and said goodbye thanks to Al Ghandour in South Korea in 2002. It appeared that this World Cup would turn out the same way, after Spain lost to Switzerland in their first game. Hierro remembers, “in the hours following the loss, I was afraid that everything we had worked for would come crashing down.” But then VDB came to the rescue: “Vicente faced the situation as he always did, naturally. He transmitted to everyone that we were still on the right path, that we didn’t have to change or doubt ourselves because of the loss. We watched the game and we understood that it was an abnormal situation, that we should have won.” And in the end, “winning the World Cup was also a relief for all those generations of footballers from the national team who weren’t able to achieve it. We left the curses behind.”
The doctors (Óscar Celada and Juan José García Cota): Dr. Celada remembers, “in the play leading up to the goal, we were all sitting down, and with each pass, more of us got up, until Andrés took the shot. The first thing I thought was, ‘Joder, Xavi was right’. When he came to the sideline to drink some water during the halftime of the overtime, he told me to remain calm, because we were going to win for sure before the penalties. The minutes passed and I couldn’t get that out of my mind. I thought he was mistaken. But Xavi is always right.” Meanwhile, Dr. Cota remembers, “I will never forget the silence on the bus from Johannesburg to Soccer City. I’ve never seen anything like it. We got close to Soccer City, and I looked back and saw all those silent monsters, concentrating hard, and I thought to myself, ‘what is a boy from Pontevedra doing here?’ It was a profound experience. It’s the best thing that’s happened in my life. When I speak of the World Cup, a thousand images come to mind. Many times, I get goosebumps when I see pictures or when people ask me about it.”
Carlos Marchena – “Padre.” This is a shout that is heard in each rondo that the team does in training sessions. It’s the name by which Marchena is known. He’s one of the heavyweights on the team. When he speaks, everyone listens because for him, there’s nothing more important than the team. Pepe Reina says, “there’s no one else that understands the codes of football and a locker room like he does.” Luis Aragonés said many times that tactically, there’s no other player like him in Spain. Piqué has relegated him to the bench, but Marchena’s never complained. Toni Grande says, “although he doesn’t wear the armband, he’s one of the captains of the team.” His World Cup won’t be remembered for his presence on the field (he played a total of eight minutes in three games), but for what he did for the team. Many players came to “el padre” for advice. He spoke a lot with Silva, with Mata, with Busquets…
Jesús Navas: it took a lot of effort for Jesús Navas to say “yes” to the national team. His desire to wear the red shirt was great, but his head told him he wasn’t ready yet, that the anxiety attacks he suffered while with the U-21 team in Alcoy were still haunting him. Fernando Hierro had the Navas case highlighted in his notebook. They took things easy until one day, they sat down in Córdoba. “That day, Hierro told me that the moment had come,” remembers Navas. During the first trip, to Austria, he fit in perfectly and everyone took care of him, especially Sergio Ramos. Navas entered for Pedro in the final: “I can’t remember what Del Bosque told me. I wanted to go in.” Then minute 116 came: “I know the play by heart. I watch the goal almost every day. It’s very special for people to remember that you were part of it.” He says he’ll continue to watch the entire game for a long time, because “what we felt there and how we enjoyed it is the maximum a footballer can aspire to, and something the whole country is proud of.” He says now, “I’m addicted to La Roja.”
Javi Martínez (!!!): Javi Martínez enjoyed the World Cup like a little kid. He only played 17 minutes against Chile, but for him, each second in South Africa was to be enjoyed. He promised to sky dive naked if Spain won the World Cup, but now, he’s backed off a bit, saying he’ll only do the skydiving part (booooooo). Javi left South Africa as a champion, but with an unfulfilled task. He wanted to see first hand the reality of the country, as he read up on the history of South Africa before the trip, including John Carlin’s “Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation” [excellent read, by the way]. That’s why when Javi learned that Marca photographer Pablo García had been to the township of Potchefstroom (where blacks were formerly not allowed) twice, he wanted to join in the next time. During the next free day the players had, Javi was ready to go and learn firsthand about the reality of South Africa. But first, he needed permission from the delegation. They didn’t want to run any risks, and so permission was denied. Javi was upset, but he understood.
Fiesta de San Juan: The night of June 23 is celebrated as the Fiesta de San Juan in many parts of Spain, and as the “Noche de Fuego” in Cataluña. It marks the start of the summer solstice, and the tradition is to light a huge bonfire. On June 23, 2010, Spain was preparing for its first final. On June 25, they would play Chile in Pretoria. To relax and perhaps bring them some luck, some of the Catalan players proposed lighting a bonfire. In one corner of the Convent (which is what the players called their hotel), three bonfires were lit at midnight, although no one was allowed to jump over them.