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Spain Out-danced; But Hold The Obits

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For the longest time, Spain’s football team could not win when it mattered. Tournament after tournament, they would bow out timidly once the knock out rounds began. And then suddenly, they could not be beaten. Across three major tournaments between 2008 & 2012 (all of which they won), Spain would concede only 6 goals.  Now, even as they were still being hailed as likely winners, the world’s number one team has bowed out of the World cup, losing both matches they played, and unable to score one goal in regular play. There is surely no doubt that one of Football’s biggest legacies is coming to an end.

Sporting legacies don’t just crumble and die one fine day. It is a slow descent from greatness, leaving ample signs for the watchful, but inevitably missed by its dedicated fan-dom. Roger Federer had stopped showing up at finals long before the analysts stopped seeing him as a favorite. The Australian cricket team had started losing both home and away long before their three world cup championship streak was cut short in India in 2011.

For Spain, perhaps the first signs manifested a year ago when both Barcelona & Real Madrid, Spain’s top two clubs, faltered at the semi-finals of the European Champions League. Barcelona, and their free flowing style of football, tiki-taka to the faithful, couldn’t score once over two matches against Bayern Munich, losing 0-7. Then in June ‘13, they succumbed to a 3-0 loss against Brazil in the finals of the Confederations Cup.

It wasn’t that Spain had forgotten to play football. They stilled possessed the ball for a majority of the game, but somewhere every few moves, they also faltered. Often enough to make them appear pedestrian. They were outdone by teams that took advantage of every error. Sampras hadn’t stopped hitting those aces where he was dethroned from Wimbledon by his eventual heir, Roger Federer. But the ability to hit one at will had disappeared. For Spain, and Barcelona in the last year, the magic was missing.

Humiliating losses are bitter. But it forces you to accept what you perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise. For Spain, they came into the world cup with the most number of players retained from the previous edition. Seventeen. Their flag-bearers were the same stalwarts of the last six years. On paper, they were still the team to beat (their list of substitutes could beat most teams, on paper). But their warhorses were all past their prime. And it is very rarely that sporting fortunes favour tired generals (though when they do, it is a beautiful sight)

Spain will now have to go through the painful process of letting its veterans go. It will have to show faith in younger blood, blood which is raring to have a go. And like the recently resurgent Australian cricket team, they will remain a force to reckon on football’s highest stage, vying for championships for as long as the factories that churn out these wonder-kids, the major clubs’ sporting academies, exist. And they seems to be well in place for now.

This will by no means be the end of tiki-taka, the magnificent passing football mastered by Le Roja, or the reds. The present generation must give way to another. And that generation must be hailed as one of the greatest ever in the game, and definitely the greatest in recent times.