Spanish success stems from team mentality

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:44 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG - It was ballet on a football pitch.

There was the rhythmic tic-tap-touch of the ball finding its way to open spaces. Sudden turns and passes completed when it seemed impossible that the players would have any idea where they teammates where.

That is the Spain that is emerging in the 2010 World Cup. Ball control, ball possession, patience and a team moving as one is Spain's trademark - a trademark it hopes will lead them to its first World Cup title when it meets the Netherlands on Sunday in the World Cup title match.

There was a recurring theme Wednesday after Spain's 1-0 win over Germany in the semifinal in Durban. It revolved around Spain's uncanny ability to play as one, to move the ball from sideline-to-sideline seamlessly.

"They won the European championship in a very convincing way. They have won all their important games for the last two or three years and they are a pretty much unchanged group of players.

German manager Joachim Loew heralds the stability of the Spanish team. Most of the team has been together for two years or more.

"It is as if they are playing on auto-pilot now and I'm fairly confident they are going to go on and win the title." Loew said. "When they want to be, they can be very dominant and hard to control. They are just a wonderful team. They are masters of the game and you can see it in every pass."

But their familiarity with each other doesn't only stem from their time together on the national team. Like Germany that has seven Bayern Munich players, like Italy with many players from Juventus, like Holland that have a big influx of Ajax players, the Spanish national team benefits from having the majority of its players coming from two teams, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Five Real players are in Spain's current World Cup squad. Usually three of them start. There are six members of Barcelona on the team. Given Catalonia's indifference to the Spanish national team, with Spain in the final and so many of their players playing for a Catalan team, they may actually cheer for Spain.

Carles Puyol, who scored in the 1-0 victory over Germany, is the Barcelona captain. Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets with defender Gerard Piqué and forward Pedro play for Barcelona.

David Villa, Spain's striker, will join Barcelona after the World Cup. It's the big blocks of players who play together on club sides that make it easier to mesh with a national team, especially since national teams have such a short training schedule to get to know each other.

"Each player seems to know where the ball is going to go when his teammate plays it because he has seen it go there thousands of times before in practice or during 40 or 50 club games and a dozen national team games each year," Loew said.

In the end, that is what got Spain to the final for the first time. Spain has a wonderful starting 11 but it has interchangeable parts that mesh with other parts. When Pedro took over for Fernando Torres as a starter against Germany, he was one of the best players on the pitch and his interaction with his teammates was impeccable.

He plays for Barcelona.

The oddity in all this is that perhaps the greatest Dutch player of all time, Johann Cruyff, is being credited with instilling the passing style that has taken Barcelona to so many titles. Cruyff was Barcelona's coach in the 90s.

In turn, what Barcelona does, so does Spain. Key players Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique all came up through Barcelona's youth academy. They play Barcelona football.

The Netherlands also enjoy playing like Barcelona. The problem is Spain plays the Barcelona game better than the Dutch.


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