Saying goodbye to Spain

In South Africa, Spain moved the ball brilliantly, instantly calculating angles with Euclidian creativity. Four years later, they're out of the World Cup after two matches.
Spain's supporters mourn the end of a great run in international soccer. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

RIO DE JANEIRO — An instant after the second goal, the Chilean leaps onto the stadium railing to celebrate above the Spanish fans below. A gladiator, standing over the vanquished, sword hilt-deep in bloody helmet. The kid next to me is changing out of his Spain jersey. He’d rather go topless.

I’m sad to see this team I admired so much fall so far since I last saw them in South Africa. There, they moved the ball brilliantly, instantly calculating angles with Euclidian creativity.

Even their centre backs, on most other teams usually single-minded golems, gave the impression they could have played in Spain’s midfield, if they’d just been a little shorter. To me – an athletic but untalented midfielder with kettlebells for feet – seeing Xavi and Iniesta in person was to marvel at how they did so much with so little. Xavi looks as intimidating as a florist. I’m confident I could leap three stacked Iniestas.

Even watching them warm up before the match was special. In 2010, they were never overwhelming, always doing just enough, probing, then cutting with unhurried incision, football’s Dexter. Four years later, thanks to age and mileage, they spent their last two games doing a convincing collective impression of the Kids In The Hall’s M. Piedlourde. Now, their sang-froid has congealed. Their version of Plan B — Diego Costa — looked dazed.

Diego Costa taunted by Brazilian fans

In both games, the Brazilians in the crowd alternated between booing him and chanting a homophobic slur that rhymed with Diego. Against the Dutch, the Spanish fans tried to rally with a counter-chant of "Diego, Diego Costa!" to the tune of "We Will Rock You." In the second game, they didn’t bother.

I had hoped they had one last run in them. The pundits would be forced to reconsider their articles about the death of Tika-taka. Instead, a thousand keyboards clack clever ‘Reign of Spain’ leads. As teams like Arsenal, Barcelona, and Spain have discovered, a game plan based solely on patient ball control is as suited to today’s game as the 1-2-7. But even seeing them as a foil for more talented teams, or as a cautionary tale for less talented ones, it’s been a privilege to see them fail.

And that kid who tucked his Spain shirt in his dad’s bag? I’m glad to see that he doesn’t leave early, that he sticks around till the end. When the team waves to its fans, he’s clapping wildly with everything he has. As though he’s beating out flames.

Kim Brunhuber is senior reporter with CBC News, in Brazil for the World Cup.


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