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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

Football

Champs good enough for encore at Brazil 2014
Dhiman Sarkar, Hindustan Times
July 02, 2012
First Published: 23:26 IST(2/7/2012)
Last Updated: 23:36 IST(2/7/2012)

Two years from now, we should see a great World Cup in Brazil — one where they won't be the favourites. Not since the 70s show of the Dutch who dazzled and disappointed in equal measure has that happened but then, it isn't often that Gianluigi Buffon accepts that his team was outclassed by the wizards from Spain.
By their standards, Spain had less possession on Sunday. The other statistics too weren't overwhelmingly in their favour. Yet rarely has a team been this audacious in the final of a major football competition and that too against four-time world champions. Sergio Ramos tried beating Buffon with back-heel and broke into a smile after keeping his effort on target. By then, Spain had scored four and had been denied a penalty.

Even with all their men, Italy trailed 0-2 at half-time. With Thiago Motta gone and substitutions exhausted, it just got too much. The vanquished not the victors seemed to be playing for the clock.

Then and now
Spain are the new Brazil. With the selecao moving away from the idea of jogo bonito, consciously some would say, since Socrates ruled the midfield in the 80s, Spain are the new keepers of football's soul.

They delight and deliver just like Brazil did on way to three of their five World Cup titles, the most by any country. Some of these players could do their tiki-taka routine inside a lift and keep opponents chasing shadows. In the semi, even with Cristiano Ronaldo lurking, Spain knocked the ball among themselves inside their penalty area.

Most of this squad should still be around when the World Cup moves to South America after 36 years. Spain's average age in the Euros was 26 and-a-half meaning two years later, there should still be enough in their tank for another fling at football's greatest prize.

Iker Casillas, their captain and supposedly the bridge between the Real Madrid and Barcelona camps that have in the past split Spanish teams down the middle, seems to have been around for ever but would only be 33 in 2014. Surely no age for a goalkeeper to quit!

Alvaro Arbeloa would be 31, the final's Man of the Match Andres Iniesta and Fernando Torres 30. Fernando Llorente 29. Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas would be 27. Ramos and David Silva one year older. 

Juan Mata and Pedro 26. Jordi Alba 23. And Sergio Busquets wouldn't complete 25 by the time the show ends in Brazil. At 34, Xavi Hernandes though may not be around to play Alba on like he did at Kiev's Olympic Stadium. Ditto Xabi Alonso who would be 32. Replacing Xavi's genius and Xabi's industry, to say nothing of his dead-ball skills, would take some doing but impossible is nothing for a team which usually starts its strikers on the bench.

Does anyone miss Marcos Senna who played such an important part in Spain's 2008 Euro triumph?

The European qualifiers haven't begun and a lot may happen between now and the 2014 finals but the odds are likely to be short on Spain doing to the World Cup what they did to the Euros. Given what happened when Brazil last hosted the World Cup and since in 13 of the 19 editions it didn't, the odds on the home team winning it could be significantly steeper.


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