Spain no longer saying 'no mas'
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Spanish team goalkeeper Iker Casillas, right, throws the ball as teammate Juan Mata looks on during a World Cup training session in Potchefstroom. (REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo)
CAPE TOWN – From players to coaches to media, the feeling is pretty much unanimous.
Even though Spain has made it to the World Cup semifinal against Germany, it has a lot more to offer.
To a player, after their difficult 1-0 quarterfinal win over Paraguay, the Spanish believed they could, and needed to, play better.
Coach Vincente Del Bosque felt Spain didn't have enough of the ball against the South American squad.
"We did not play well, but we also did a few things well," he said. "Paraguay should be given credit. We did deserve to win and we had our chances."
This is not the first time in South Africa that Spain failed to show the kind of form that led it to the 2008 European championship. Inconsistency has been the only consistent for Spain.
It struggled against Portugal in the round of 16 but managed to come through with a tight win. In their tournament opener, which seems oh so long ago, the Spaniards lost 1-0 to Switzerland.
Going into the semifinal with Germany, most believe Spain is clearly in trouble.
The only thing that has gone unchanged with Spain throughout the tournament has been the play of marvelous David Villa. While his striker partner Fernando Torres has struggled, Villa has rescued Spain with timely scoring. Several of his tallies have been master works carried out under extreme pressure.
But Germany has been the best team in this tournament and has shown a consistent ability to not only score but use a pleasing style of play as well.
“They are the best national team at the moment,” Del Bosque said of Germany. “We will leave our hearts and souls on the pitch.”
Whether that is rhetoric or not, Del Bosque has hit on a key point.
“The end of the curse,” was a headline in the Spanish sports daily Marca after the win over Paraguay, referring to Spain's failure to previously make it further than the quarterfinals in the World Cup.
This is a team that, so far, has disproved the biggest knock against it.
The criticism isn’t about how well Spain has played or why some players haven’t performed better. It is, and always has been, about its ability to respond to pressure and adversity.
For years, Spain has been the team that could never win anything despite a tremendous amount of talent.
Even though they won the 2008 European Championship, there had been questions about how well Spain would respond when it faced the very best soccer nations in a World Cup.
Would the old, fragile Spain reappear?
The previous incarnation of the Spanish team has had several opportunities to rear its ugly head again but that hasn’t happened.
Instead of finding ways to lose, Spain has found ways to win.
Spain could have made a disastrous exit early in this tournament. Coming in as a favourite, it was upset by Switzerland in its first game of the group stage.
From that point on, Spain could not afford a stumble. The old Spain would have done just that, fallen victim to the pressure.
This version, though, fought its way through the group stage to advance. Along the way it beat a tough Chilean squad.
Spain then drew Portugal, a difficult opponent, in the knockout stage. It wasn’t easy but somehow Villa found a winning goal.
Against Paraguay in the quarterfinal, Spain could have collapsed several times.
It gave up a penalty kick in the second half. Goaltender Iker Casillas, who had to deal with his share of controversy early in the tournament, made a huge save.
Spain could have fallen apart when Xabi Alonso had a penalty goal called back then had his shot stopped on the re-take.
Instead, La Furia Roja found the strength to come up with a late winner under the most extreme pressure.
Whether Spain has enough to beat Germany or not remains to be seen. But if the Spaniards don’t win, it will have nothing to do with an inability to respond to pressure or wilting on the global stage.
It will be a matter of Spain simply not being as good as Germany on the day.
That’s far different than years gone by, when so often Spain would be the better team and still wind up being one of the first to go home.