más secretos – champions of the world II
And we continue with the chapter “Champions of the World” in Más secretos de la Roja! In this excerpt, we find out what went on before and after the games against Switzerland, Honduras and Chile.
Switzerland (June 16, Moses Mabhida, Durban).
Spain and Switzerland were the last teams to play out of the 32. Spain used the same formula for the game. It had the ball and frequently got close to the rival goal. Arbeloa said, “I remember that 15 minutes into the game, I told Albiol that if we continued like this, no one could beat us. We were playing so well…” But the minutes passed and the goal didn’t come. In the 51st minute, Switzerland scored a goal. Casillas said, “the game could be summed up in that play. It was a real misfortune.” To make matters worse, Piqué suffered a cut above his eye and needed two stitches. Iniesta lost feeling in the back of his right thigh after receiving a blow and had to be taken out: “I was quite scared. I thought I had suffered something more serious than what I really had.”
The prince and princess of Spain went to the locker room to cheer the players up, and they found a team in a state of shock. The players tried to cheer each other up, without knowing what they had done wrong to lose this game. Torres said, “when we lose, normally we’re silent and have long faces. That day there was a different atmosphere. I remember Xavi, Alonso, Arbeloa saying that it was okay. We were trying to bring each other back to reality. We didn’t do anything poorly and we hadn’t deviated from the script.” Iker added, “the curious thing was that there was no pessimism. Rather, there was hope and confidence. The veterans cheered up the younger players.”
That night, it was hard for everyone to sleep. Del Bosque and his staff watched the game again before going to bed. Spain had only lost one of the previous 48 games it had played, and history showed that a team had never become a world champion after losing the first game. Piqué said in hindsight, “it was a tough blow. People who had considered us the favorites were now saying that it would be impossible for us to win. We went from being a team that played football well and that everyone loved to being a normal team. In part, that was good for us because it brought everyone back to earth: us, the press, the fans.”
The next day, before training, the coach and the players reviewed the game against Switzerland. The video session only reaffirmed that the football concept they had been using was the right one. Torres said, “no matter how much we analyzed the game, we still didn’t know why we had lost. The only conclusion we came to was that if we had to do it all over again, we would have done everything exactly the same. This made us feel that we were on the right path.”
Busquets had been severely criticized by the press, and his teammates tried to support him and cheer him up. Xabi said, “I spoke quite a lot with Sergio during those few days. Supporting each other made us feel more secure. The debate was external. Internally, there were no doubts.” Busquets admits that those days weren’t easy for him: “for me, the criticism was totally unjust and without reason. It was fashionable to attack the double pivot and it fell on me, perhaps because I was the youngest and also new. Everyone knew that we had played well. I felt the support of my teammates, especially Marchena. He told me to be calm.”
Meanwhile, Xavi decided that Busquets looked a lot like Lucky Luke, so that became his nickname: “he’s exactly the same, with his legs and long body.” Busquets adds, “sometimes they also call me Vinegar. When I lose, I’m upset the entire day and no one wants to be around me.”
Honduras (June 21, Ellis Park, Johannesburg).
Pedro Cortés took on the responsibility of trying to support the team each time he ran across one of the players in the hotel: “however, it was the other way around, because the players tried to cheer me up. I remember that Reina took me aside and told me, ‘Pedro, calm down, we’re not going to lose anymore.'”
The day after the loss to Switzerland, Reina didn’t go to sleep until six in the morning. It wasn’t because he was thinking about the game, but because he was one of those who had gathered in Raúl Albiol’s room at 2:30h in the morning to watch the Lakers take on the Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA finals. Albiol said, “about half of the team got together. I remember that Arbeloa, Piqué, Alonso, Busquets, Ramos, Navas, Reina and I watched the game. Almost all of us support the Lakers because of Pau [Gasol], and we all enjoyed that final because he played very well. Alonso and I prefer the Celtics, but Pau is Pau.”
Arbeloa showed up wearing a Gasol jersey. He is a big fan of the NBA, and he was happy to at last watch a game on TV: “I had to watch the fifth and sixth games via the Internet because no channels were showing them. For the seventh game, we spoke with [Antonio] Limones so that we could watch on TV. We stayed up the whole night, but we had also taken naps. The next day we had no problems training.”
The days felt much longer than normal and the jokes faded away. There was a lot at stake, and although no one wanted to think it, there was the possibility that the team could be eliminated in the first round. Xabi said, “there was no margin of error. There’s already a lot of tension in any World Cup game, but having to win two games demands a lot out of you.”
Casillas decided to shave off the beard that had accompanied him for the last year, seeking to change his fortunes. Busquets, who had joined the Cola Cao brigade the night before the game against Switzerland, was banned from eating any more croissants. Reina said, “he was prohibited from eating, although he came to speak with us.” For some, the tension made them forget about their rituals and superstitions. Villa always sat next to Reina on the bus and always left his jacket on the seat. Prior to the last training session before the Honduras game, Reina had to remind him of it: “I like to be the last one off of the bus and I always sit next to the window. That day, I saw el Guaje take his jacket with him and I asked him, ‘what are you doing?’ We were so afraid that we forgot our rituals.”
The day of the game, Capdevila went down early to eat. He sat at the table, trying to imagine how the upcoming game would be like. While he was doing that, Del Bosque approached him. Joan says, “he told me that we had to be united during this game. I felt good hearing him say this just to me. It helped to liberate me and make me feel protected. It also filled me with responsibility and made me feel important. I remember that he told me, ‘Joan, as a veteran, you know that you’ll need to work hard for this game…’ It impacted me, since I was a veteran in terms of age, but many of my teammates had played more games than me.” Del Bosque says, “everyone loves Joan and I do too. He has assumed perfectly the role he had to play.” Capdevila decided not to tickle any of his teammates’ ears during the national anthem. He had done it against Switzerland and he didn’t want to press his luck.
Spain won behind two goals from Villa. Villa’s mother and sister had visited the Virgin of Covadonga the day before, and it brought him good luck.
Chile (June 25, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria).
Each day, the players would sit at two long tables to have meals. Normally, they sat in the same places. One table was made up of the five Real Madrid players, plus Navas, Reina, Torres, Silva, Marchena and Mata. They missed Cazorla a lot, since he is very charismatic and loved. Silva says, “Santi is very fun and funny. He’s always in a good mood and with a smile on his face. He infects you with his optimism and positive energy. I spend many hours of the concentración with him, and I missed him in South Africa. It’s a shame that he wasn’t able to be with us.”
The other table was made up of the seven footballers from Barcelona, plus Villa (who had just been signed), Cesc, Capdevila, Llorente and Javi Martínez. Javi says, “Capdevila is dangerous. You always have to keep an eye on him because as soon as you look away, he hides your phone under the salad. I already knew Piqué and Busquets from playing with them in the lower categories and that helped me a lot, although I felt at home from the beginning.”
There were two more tables in the dining room. At one sat the members of the coaching staff, and at the other, the doctors, fisios, equipment managers and administrative staff. The day after the win against Honduras, Xavi went up to chat with Del Bosque after breakfast. Xavi was surprised by what Del Bosque had said after the game, and told him that he didn’t think the team had played that poorly. Del Bosque told him he was right. He had watched the game again in the early hours of the morning and he had come away feeling better about it. Later that day, Del Bosque told the press, in response to all the discussion about whether Busquets and Alonso were compatible, “if I were a football player, I’d want to be like Busquets. He does everything well.” Later on, he said, “what I said was spontaneous. I didn’t go into the press conference with it in mind.”
Piqué spent that morning in the hotel, unable to speak. He had busted his lip in the last game, in addition to receiving a kick to the groin shortly before halftime. This, along with the two stitches he had to receive against Switzerland, made him the center of jokes. Puyol said, “I admit that we teased him a lot. I told him, ‘you just have bad luck.’ And it was hard to keep a straight face, even in the middle of the game.” Pique said, “some of my teammates are bastards. Since my lip was swollen, it was hard for me to talk and to eat. Some of them, such as Reina, imitated the way I tried to make myself understood and he began calling me Carmen de Mairena [a famous transvestite, don’t google that name unless you want a scare], much to the delight of everyone.”
Worried about the excessive responsibility the players were bearing, Fernando Hierro gathered the captains of the team after one dinner. He told Iker, Puyol, Xavi, Xabi and Torres to meet in his room, and told them to be themselves and enjoy the experience. He says, “it wasn’t a long conversation. I just wanted to tell them not to doubt themselves because if they did, they would be dead. I reminded them that they were the champions of Europe. Then I realized that they knew what they had to do, and there were no doubts, that win or lose, they would be loyal to their style.”
Three days before the game against Chile, Capdevila came up with the idea of celebrating the Noche de San Juan (also his saint’s day), which involves lighting bonfires. In the northern hemisphere, the night of June 23 is the shortest one of the year. In South Africa, located in the southern hemisphere, it’s the longest one, and the cold was a stark contrast to the heat of Spain. Capdevila enlisted the help of Antonio Limones and Silvia Dorschnerova to prepare the firewood in a garden. The firewood was arranged in three piles that became three bonfires. Capdevila says proudly, “I wasn’t the only one who jumped over the bonfire. Mata did too, as his name is also Juan, as did Ramos and other members of the delegation, such as Miguel Gutiérrez. What jumps we had!” As he immortalized the moment with his mobile phone, he prayed that the team’s stay in South Africa would be prolonged. He says, “from the time I was small, I’ve celebrated my saint’s day like this, so I was very excited to share it with the entire group. During the Confederations Cup, we did something similar. In the Eurocopa, all I could do was set fire to a newspaper alone in my room and jump over it.”
The days before the game were otherwise filled with tension. As Xabi Alonso said, “those were the most worrisome days I’ve had during my career.” On the way to the stadium, the bus was silent. No music was playing, and the players didn’t even speak, only sending each other messages through their Blackberrys. Casillas remembers, “the nervousness we were feeling that day was brutal. The silence was like the one you have at a funeral.” One of the few that spoke was Iniesta, who told Valdés, “today, I’m scoring.”
After the warm-up, the players huddled and did their traditional chant of “ganar, ganar y ganar” (win, win and win). The veterans added, “we’re not going to be eliminated! We have to win no matter what!”
Villa’s goal made him Spain’s top goalscorer in the World Cup. Iniesta, meanwhile, made good on his promise to Valdés.
With the game winding down, Casillas called out “¡Tranquilos!” to Busquets and Piqué. Del Bosque took out the hobbled Xabi Alonso, who had bruised his ankle after a rough tackle, and put in Javi Martínez, or “Jiménez” to his teammates. He explains, “in one of the first chats, Vicente referred to me as Javi Jiménez. Apparently, when he was playing for Real Madrid, there was a player by that name and he got confused. Puyol, who helped me a lot during the World Cup, still calls me that.” Del Bosque admits, “sometimes I also mix up Villa and Silva. In this way, I have confused Silvia several times when I want to make a change.”
Spain won that game, going into the round of 16 as the first in their group. There was a lot of tension and responsibility, but Spain stayed true to their style and fair play, not receiving a single yellow card in the first round.
Posted on January 2, 2013, in secretos and tagged albiol, arbeloa, busquets, capdevila, cazorla, del bosque, iker, iniesta, javi, marchena, mata, navas, pepe, piqué, puyol, sergio, silva, torres, valdés, villa, xabi, xavi. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.