más secretos – champions of the world III

We continue with this walk down memory lane – I am really loving reliving the excitement and joy we felt during the World Cup, because when it was actually happening, it was too nerve-wracking and suspenseful!  Today, we see how Spain successively beat Portugal, Paraguay and Germany to set up a final showdown with The Netherlands.

Portugal (June 29, Green Point, Cape Town).

In “The Convent,” which is the affectionate nickname the players came up with for the hotel where they had the concentración, everything was back to normal.

In order to get to the dining room from their rooms, the players had to go through dark hallways and a small, poorly lit garden.  Some of them used these circumstances to scare their teammates.  Fernando Llorente says, “Reina and I usually hid in there so that we could scare our teammates as they walked by.  The bad thing was that if they were a few minutes late, you would freeze because it was so cold.”

[I wish we had pictures of this!]

Some of the players even slept in sweatsuits, because the heat in their rooms was not enough to overcome the low temperatures.  Meanwhile, each day before going to bed, Puyol updated the results of the porra.  After the first round of the tournament concluded, Puyol found that the person in first place was none other than his inseparable Piqué.  Piqué says, “I made two sets of bets, one that I came up with myself and the other by Albert Pedret, one of my best friends.  He loves football and thanks to him, I won the porra.”  Puyol jokes, “there was a lot of teasing because quite a few of our teammates accused us of tampering with the results.”  Mata finished in second place and Capdevila in third.

In the training session on the day after the game against Chile, Raúl Albiol collided with Fernando Llorente and suffered a fracture to his right fibula.  The good news was that he didn’t have to return to Madrid and he could stay with the team.  The bad news was that the injury meant he was the only field player not to play a single minute during the tournament.

On the second anniversary of the Eurocopa, Del Bosque decided to use the same line-up that had defeated Chile.  In the second half, Llorente changed the game, and was subsequently baptized by Pepe Reina as “the truck of La Roja.”  Portugal could not stop Llorente, and during one scuffle, Carvalho even ripped open his shirt [thank you Ricardo!].

Llorente’s teammates felt much freer with the blond giant on the field.  Villa says, “I had never seen such an abundance of strength in my life.  Fernando overcame the two centerbacks by himself in just half an hour.  I remember them on top of him and still unable to stop him.  He changed the game because he opened things up for those of us on the wings.”  Xavi says, “we felt that we were superior and that the goal had to come one way or another.”  In the 63rd minute, Villa scored, and called it “one of the most beautiful moments of the World Cup.”  Before the final whistle blew, the referee asked Xavi for his shirt.  Xavi said, “I told him I would give it to him if he blew the whistle right then and there.”

That body!  It deserves a trophy too.

Paraguay (July 3, Ellis Park, Johannesburg).

Pocha‘s popularity fell during the World Cup.  Capdevila no longer played, even though his teammates pressured him to do so.  And Casillas, Villa and Reina, the founders of the pocha group, missed Cazorla.  His place was covered by Llorente, who slowly polished his technique.  Villa says, “the problem with pocha is that you can only play with four or five.  Since there were so many of us, we looked for solutions.  It wasn’t a problem for me because I love card games.”

Poker became the favorite game and each night a game was organized after dinner.  As the days went by, the amount of the bets went up, which led to some renouncing the game.  Capdevila reveals, “someone, whose name I won’t reveal, found himself in a huge mess.  I play cards for entertainment, not to suffer.”

The more conservative ones preferred to play chinchón or carta corrida, which was the case of Joan, Puyol, Xavi, Cesc, Busquets, Pedro and Mata.  Darts and pool were also popular pastimes.

Piqué is one of the poker masters.  He began playing while in England, and even takes part in competitions.  He had many confrontations with Reina.  Alonso, Ramos, Silva, Javi Martínez and once in a while Xavi, Cesc and Mata, would also play.  Piqué says, “Iker is a very conservative player.  I remember that two days before the final, I was doing very well, with quite a high amount of money won, but then I suffered a disaster and I ended up losing.  A similar thing happened to Pepe.”

Ramos, meanwhile, preferred videogames and he and Navas played as Brazil on the Play.  Brazil usually took on England, who was managed by Arbeloa and Albiol.  El Chori had packed the videogame console in his luggage and memorable games were played in his room.  Arbeloa says, “in the concentración in Austria before the World Cup, we had a serious rivalry.  Albiol and I always played with England.  The results were more or less equal, although it’s true that we won more times.  When we returned to Madrid, just before going to South Africa, I purchased two shirts, one of Gerrard and the other of Lampard.  As soon as they saw us wearing them, Sergio and Jesús ran out to purchase Brazil shirts.  It was worth it because it livened up the games and made us laugh.”  One day, Xabi Alonso took a picture of his two Real Madrid teammates, and would end up posting that photo on Twitter months later.

One night, a game of bingo was organized.  The only problem was that there weren’t any bingo cards, so they decided to write down the numbers each one had on sheets of paper.  Ramos and Navas went on a winning streak and there didn’t seem to be any way to beat them.  Arbeloa and Albiol began to suspect that something strange was going on, because it wasn’t normal for them to be so lucky.  Arbeloa says, “without them realizing it, I took a photo with my phone of the numbers they had on the paper.”  Then the final round came up and both teams were doing equally well.  Each pair needed one more number to win when Navas shouted out “¡Bingo!”  Arbeloa was checking the 15 numbers on his card when he discovered something strange: someone had put a “1” in front of a “4.”  Albiol says, “they changed the number.  The worst thing is that I’m sure they did that a ton of times before.”  Arbeloa and Albiol were bothered by what had happened, but they got over it and told the others that they would watch over them more in the future.

Del Bosque decided to use the same line-up that he had used against Portugal.  After his chat with the players, Reina took Iker aside.  Iker says, “Pepe is obsessed with studying how the rival forwards take their penalties.  That season, Liverpool had played Benfica in the Europa League.  Cardozo had taken two penalties and he knew him well.  He told me that Cardozo usually aimed them to the left of the goalkeeper.”

Spain did not start off the game well.  They didn’t have a shot at the goal until the 28th minute.  In the middle of the battle, the referee blew the whistle and called a penalty on Piqué.  Puyol yelled at his teammate, “what have you done?”  “Nothing!  I didn’t do anything” was the response.  Puyol joined the players who were protesting the call.  Meanwhile, Piqué watched the repetition of the play on the screen of the stadium: “the images gave me away.  I didn’t have any type of defense possible.  There’s a law in football that says a defender should never lose sight of the ball.  I don’t know why I decided to look at Cardozo.  He managed to escape from me and the only thing I could do was grab him.”

Behind the goal, Pedro, Llorente and Navas were warming up with Javier Miñano.  The four of them stopped what they were doing and watched what was unfolding.  Miñano says, “it was an agonizing moment.  It went on forever.  You feel helpless since you’re so close and you can’t do anything.”  The rest of the substitutes stood up, not even daring to breathe.  Not even Reina, who exchanged a look with Iker, could calm himself down.  Mata says, “you can never give up when you have Iker in the goal.  I remember that before the games, I asked him how he was he and responded ‘Cagao…’  I thought his response was funny, since if he’s like that at this point in his career, what are the rest of us going to be like… It was the most tense moment, but we all know that Iker steps up during this type of moment.”

Cardozo took the penalty.  Iker says, “between Pepe’s advice and my intuition, I dove to the left.  I was lucky enough that the ball ended up between my hands.”  Iker pointed at Reina to show him that he had played a part in stopping the penalty.  Pepe thanked him from the bench, while he hugged his teammates.

Shortly after, Villa was brought down in the area and a penalty was called.  Alonso told Villa earlier that he was ready to take any penalties should they be called.  Villa says, “I told him that although I had missed my last three penalties with the national team, I felt confident enough to continue taking them.  We decided that if he felt confident, he would take them, but if he had any doubts, I would be there.”  Alonso made the penalty, but the referee annulled it, saying that Spain had entered the area before the shot.  Alonso took it again, but this time the goalkeeper stopped it.  Alonso says, “I was really upset at missing it, given its importance.  I felt liberated at the end of the game when I hugged Villa.  If we hadn’t passed, it would have been hard to live with this black mark on my career.”  Villa then scored for Spain, and Casillas made a series of monumental saves.  When the game ended, he received a hug from Reina and Villa.

Germany (July 7, Moses Mabhida, Durban).

The best was yet to come, but the team had already been in the concentración for 41 days.  Del Bosque was silently proud that everyone was still getting along.  Meanwhile, family members were beginning to arrive in “Potch.”  Two players asked for permission to spend their free time outside of the hotel with their partners.  Fernando Hierro was reluctant to grant them permission, but Del Bosque told him, “you have to show them affection.  Let them go!  Sometimes you seem more old-fashioned than me, even though you’re much younger.”

As for the upcoming game, Xavi says, “I preferred to face Germany rather than Argentina due to the feeling that I had in the Eurocopa that we were the superior team.  I imagined that they would have a lot of respect for us.  And it was like that…”  On the night before the game, Del Bosque went up to Xavi, because he had a plan and wanted to get his opinion.  Xavi says, “Vicente told me that he was going to put Pedro on the right and he consulted me.  I told him that if we wanted to pressure up front, Pedro would be snapping at the balls of the defense.”  Meanwhile, at the training session, Puyol finished with pain in his glutes, which only got worse: “I thought about telling the míster because I thought I wouldn’t be able to play.  But Raúl told me to wait until after we had finished the treatment.  That night, he worked his magic on me once again and fortunately I was able to play.”  [Can you imagine if he hadn’t?]

Capdevila passed by the mixed zone after the session with a mustache.  He told the reporters, “you like my new look?  My name is Uli Stielike.  I’m going to shave it off when we get back to the hotel.  Tomorrow I’ll look like I always do.”  Even though this game was a very important one, there were still some joking around.  As for Xavi, he had been debating whether to tell Pedro what Del Bosque had told him, but decided not to.

Pedro was shocked when he heard his name in the chat before the game: “my first game as a starter was the semifinal of the World Cup.  My teammates supported me and gave me confidence.  I thought, ‘¡de puta madre!‘”  Xavi said, “having Pedro on the field gave me a tranquil sensation… for me he’s one of the best footballers in Spain.  In addition, I love his personality: he’s humble, generous, always thinking about others… I’m in love with Pedro.”  Pedro had a great first half.

As the players were walking back to the locker room, Puyol was seen having an animated discussion with Xavi, waving his arms around and scolding his teammate: “Pelopo, you don’t see that during the corners they’re defending in lines?  Aim at the penalty spot and look for Sergio, Geri or me… during the next corner, I’m going to go outside of the area so you can see me.”  Xavi responded that he would do exactly that.  In the second half, that was what happened.  Puyol told Piqué to provide blockage for him.  Xavi says, “that bastard, since he was so upset with me, he went for it like a howitzer.  When I kicked the ball, I had the feeling that it would go where I wanted it to.  I saw Puyi and I said… ‘goal.'”  Puyol says, “it was the perfect cross.  After all the effort I had made to make him see me, I couldn’t fail.  I did everything I could and luckily the ball went in.”  In Telecinco’s program “El día que vivimos un sueño,” Del Bosque described the play like this: “Xavi put his boot on Puyol’s head.”

Spain could have scored a second goal, but Pedro didn’t pass the ball to Torres.  Pedro says, “in that moment, I only had the goal in mind because it was practically empty.  But when I began dribbling, I stumbled and the defense got in position.  I felt bad, very bad.  After the game, I asked Fernando to forgive me and fortunately he accepted my apology.”

In the opinion of the players, this was their best game so far.  Villa chased after Miroslav Klose on the way to the locker rooms to ask him for his shirt.  El Guaje says, “I was very excited to get that shirt.  I’ve always admired Klose.  I think he’s an extraordinary forward.  I began collecting shirts when I began playing.  I have more than 500… whenever I play against a legendary player, I try to ask him for his shirt in case it’s the last time I face him.  I was also very excited to get Pirlo’s after the friendly we played in Bari in August 2011.”

The team celebrated the victory in the locker room.  As they were partying, it was announced that Queen Sofía was about to enter to congratulate them.  She came in, congratulated them and wished them good luck in the final.  She then asked, “where is Puyol?”  On any other day, no one would have noticed his absence, but on that day, he was the star.  Puyol appeared wearing just a towel.  He blushingly greeted the queen while his teammates chanted “Puyi, Puyi, Puyi, Puyi…”  He said, “I was lying on the treatment table receiving a massage and putting ice on my knee.  I heard voices, but I didn’t know that someone had come into the locker room… They called me, I put on the towel and I came out to greet her.”

As the team was walking to the bus, Xavi was speaking on the phone to his family and friends.  Joachim Löw came up to him, and Xavi told the person he was speaking to to hold on.  Löw said in English, “I want to congratulate you and tell you two things: you’re the best footballer in the world and you all deserve to win the World Cup.  I’ve never seen a team play football like that.”  Xavi answered, “thank you very much” [also in English].  On the other end of the phone, his friend El Juárez couldn’t believe what he had just heard: “madre mía, did you hear what he told you?”  Xavi responded, “you heard what he said?  I didn’t know how to answer him, tío, ¡qué crack!”  

Surprisingly, things were quiet on the flight back to Potch.  Some began playing parchís, while others read or listened to music.  After arriving back at the hotel and having dinner, Villa, Busquets, Pedro and Mata began to play ping pong to relax a bit before sleeping.


Posted on January 14, 2013, in secretos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Again, thank you for bringing back these fabulous memories. I’m happy to see that my first impression of Joachim Low was correct! I always thought he was a classy guy!
    I remember being so upset with Pedro for not passing to Torres! Thank goodness Spain still won that game!

  2. It’s like torres wasn’t even there :'(

  3. How did we live through this without regular panic attacks I’ll never understand – the games against Chile, Germany and of course Netherlands were so intense!

  4. I love reliving these memories! I can just picture Pepe and Joan jumping out and scaring people. And of course, Puyi yelling at Pique and Xavi. That’s why I love him being such an elder statesman of La Roja. Such intensity.I love everyone’s faith in Iker when he’s goal. And I didn’t know about Villa’s anecdote about Klose. I’m still laughing about the cheating in the games and going and buying the England jerseys. I wonder what Gerrard and Lampard think. I’m just trying to imagine another national team going out and buying Xavi and Iniesta jerseys and playing Play. For some reason, just can’t do it. But with these boys, anything is possible!

  5. Juicy stuff! Reading this makes me want to rewatch the Germany Spain match..hahah Thanks Una!!

  6. this is so, so, so wonderful to read! i remember all the excitement of those matches as a fan, but it is another thing all together to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the players were experiencing them. i love it! thank you so much! :)

  7. The ref asking for Xavi’s shirt before even blowing the whistle is actually somewhat bothersome to me. Sure, dude, be reverent of the talent before you, but don’t put yourself in a position to even be perceived as biased. Especially if the player is going to talk about it later.

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