Since 2006, the Spanish national football team has been focused on maximising the greatest strength of its playing staff – midfielders passing the ball quickly over short distances. In the years since then, the numbers of both passes and midfielders have increased greatly in all areas of their game. On Monday 18 June – at approximately 22.31 hours local time – in the PGE Arena in Gdańsk, Poland played host to the apotheosis of Spanish football ideal; three midfielders combined to propel a ball over the goal line from the shortest range possible. This is the story of how Spain walked it in.
Vicente del Bosque (Spain head coach): The first thing we must do, especially in such a beautiful moment, is to praise the foundation. My players did everything possible to build throughout the game to make this situation possible. Can you imagine the discipline, the commitment to our identity, to not once, in 87 minutes, give in and try to score a vulgar goal?
Xavi Hernández (Spain midfielder): Sometimes the situation simply presents itself, understand? Against Ireland, the conditions were not right for perfection, and we were forced to score goals in the traditional sense. But with Croatia… as soon as you stepped on the field, that magic was in the air.
Fernando Torres (Spain forward): Of course, I do what I can to prevent the team from being too obvious when presented with a chance that just anyone could take, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I’ve tried to tell Shay Given in the past: we’re attempting to achieve something here – but he doesn’t seem to want to stop my shots from becoming goals. He doesn’t get it, not like the other keepers do.
Luka Modrić (Croatia midfielder): Do you think we don’t talk about it before the match? Of course we know that Spain wants to walk – the whole game, Darijo [Srna, Crotia fullback and captain] was yelling to us: ‘Don’t be their footpath! Make these sons of mothers play like their feet are sewn on by elephants!’ – but what can you do?
On the 88th minute, Spain’s moment arrived.
Cesc Fàbregas (Spain midfielder): All at once, the entire scenario was clear to me. It was like I could hear the Croatia defenders’ thoughts: ‘Push up, surely they have to shoot sometime.’ – but I fooled them, doing what they least expected by doing what they most expected. I passed.
Del Bosque: That scoop over the opponent is a difficult skill, but Cesc can do that five, six times in a ninety minutes. No, the real vision is from Iniesta – to have the ball six metres from goal, only a stumbling, confused keeper in your way… anyone less committed to what makes Spain great would have shot, instead Andrés passes. Because he believes in Spain.
Jesús Navas (Spain midfielder): These are the moments that you dream of when you wear that red shirt: the goal so big in front of you, you cannot see the posts nearly – and then a ball at your feet? That is when you know it is time to stroll.
The goal was scored, but some controversy remains over whether or not Navas truly walked it in – his last, heavy touch of the ball looking suspiciously like a strike.
Xavi: I cannot lie, we were annoyed a Jesús taking such a risk with our creation.
Torres: I certainly wouldn’t have tried to hit it so decisively. Never.
Del Bosque: We were all there on the bench, yelling to Jesús with all the force of our lungs: ‘Tranqulio chico, tranquilo!’, but in the stadium, in the heat of the battle? Forget it – you have to trust the player’s desire to fashion a special moment will overcome all that crap he was taught as a boy.
Navas: Let me be clear – I was simply taking my normal step when the ball checked its movement, causing it to come onto my stride much more forcefully than it would have otherwise. I did not kick that ball, no way.
Sergio Ramos (Spain defender): I see that there is a margin to say that it was not the perfect Spanish goal, but those who say such things are enemies. They are enemies of Spain, of football, of beauty. We know what it is that we did that night. We know.
Navas: It may look like I made a strike, and that may even be because that is what happened – but I will insist today, tomorrow, a hundred years from now – I walked the ball into the net, we walked the ball into the net. And no amount of your facts can change that.
Seven minutes later, Spain had won the game by one goal and four hundred and thirty-three passes. But with their aim achieved, what will Spain do next?
Xavi: That is the question, no? Is this it? Is the project completed? And with a heavy heart I have to say that it is, yes. Where can you go after perfection?
Cesc: You go to England. In my time there, I saw men of great vision – Allardyce, Pulis, McLeish…
Del Bosque: It is true that football wears many faces, and there is much to admire in the face of Allardyce. Perhaps it is time for a New Spain?
Fernando Llorente (Spain striker): Well, at f****** last.
This was brilliantly imagined by long-time AFR reader Nicol Hay. You can find more from Nicol at The Brass Donkey. Remember that you can get involved with us if you’re ever inspired. Comments below please. Allardyce for Spain!
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