World Cup: Second Teams

Second Teams: Spain

Editor’s note: This is the latest piece in PSP’s World Cup series, in which PSP’s writers and a few honored guests make the case for which team you should root for in the World Cup after the United States. Read the full series here.

Spain is the best.

Here is the thing. I turn on a game where neither team has Philly ties and my first thought is, “Who’s the underdog? Who’s losing?” That’s the team I root for. I want to see the Cinderella story, the magic of the underdog overcoming the odds. That means I watch a lot of teams I’m rooting for lose, but I figure it’s my little contribution toward a world with greater equity. Then I despise, as we all do, the people who root for the favorite, every year.

This is why you’re probably saying, “I’m not going to root for Spain. They’re ranked No. 1 in the world.”

Soccer is the exception. Here’s an example. Two years ago, I turned on game in which Chelsea was down a goal with about five minutes left, playing against (I think) Aston Villa. Initially, I was hoping for the result to hold, because I’m an Arsenal fan. Aston Villa (or West Ham, or whoever it was) had eleven guys behind the ball, hoofing it down field when they got a touch. Chelsea was committing everything to the attack, just a storm of creativity, movement, and skill, and after they banged one in, I found myself cheering.

That’s when I realized that soccer is the exception for me. The part of me that loves soccer is even stronger than the part of me that loves the underdog. I want the best team to win.

That’s why, after the US, you should root for Spain: They play excellent soccer passionately.

Spainish FF logoTheir midfield is so good that Santi Cazorla is on the bubble and Isco didn’t make the 30.

Xavi Hernandez is the prototype from which Vincent Noguiera is formed. It’s no accident he shares a name with Professor X, who imparts wisdom and a great work ethic to the X-men, leading them to take down evil monster after evil monster. Xavi also leads with control and relentless running, and has produced victory after victory.

Then you have Fabregas and Iniesta, the type of attacking mids Union fans dreamt of for the last few years.

At forward, the fact that Fernando Torres and David Villa aren’t in form doesn’t matter. They have Diego Costa and Pedro. (Costa may be injured though, with a nine minute exit from the Champions League final.)

If that’s not enough, their back line is the best looking. (Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos!) Jordi Alba, in my opinion, doesn’t have quite the same good looks, but by the time the other team sees his overlapping run, it’s too late. Left hook for the K.O.

As a Philly kid who sweated away my summers hot roofing, I also admire Spain for the work they put in. They work their asses off. Their style of dominating a match —  by holding the ball that features technical play, triangles that multiply and divide and coalesce again like MC Escher art — has this defensive corollary. When Spain doesn’t have the ball, they run and pressure until their opponent coughs it up, and then they start with the triangles again.

In 2008 European Championship, the Spain team could be confused for the Barcelona team, both in style and personnel. They would sometimes seem to forget that the purpose was to score, and they would just pass and pass and pass. The 2014 World Cup squad, however, has infused that possession style with a pragmatism that recognizes the opportunity for counterattack and the necessity of making plays that risk possession in the final third (that’s how they have won a World Cup and a Euro Cup).

La Furia Roja do face some squad questions. Are they too old? Iniesta is 30; Xavi is 34. Can their pretty boy back line replicate the rugged commitment of the large-nosed Carles Puyol? Judging by the leadership Ramos showed in the Champions League final by heading in the tying goal in the 93rd minute, the answer is yes.

The biggest question Spain faces is whether or not they can keep playing at the highest level, after they have proved everything and broken the final eight curse they once struggled under. Is their passion for the game enough to overcome Brazil’s enthusiasm and home field advantage, Argentina’s host of genius attackers, and Germany’s two fists of skill and organization? We’ll see (and I think so).

Vamos Espana! Viva La Furia Roja!


  1. At their best, Spain really are an absolute joy to watch. They can get a little whiny when teams don’t just let them play their tiki-taka keepaway, and have a few guys prone to playacting (Busquets), but they have more skill on the ball up and down the squad than any team apart from Brazil. And unlike Brazil, this team does not get outworked: Xavi, Fabregas, David Silva, Santi Cazorla (brilliant player who probably won’t start that’s how good this team is), Alvaro Negredo and others all have engines that just don’t quit, and their determination is fantastic to behold.
    Not my second team, but certainly not a bad choice. I definitely enjoy watching them, and would support them against say, Mexico, Italy or Portugal – though hopefully we won’t be seeing that particular matchup, as it likely means our boys are out!

  2. I have found my way back to football after a long absence. I grew up playing at a high level til 14, got a strange growing disease in my feet that made the game hurt too much to play.
    Right around that time I pured a 5 iron from 180 yards for the first time and needless to say was hooked for 20 years exacting the inexact science that is the golf swing.
    I even managed to live in the shadows of the Timber Army for 4 years and never really fell back in with the game- chasing instead trips down the Oregon Coast to Bandon Dunes and playing Pumpkin Ridge as often as possible. I admit loving Zidane since I first saw his grace but never watched him play save world cup years.
    All this was until parenthood called 4 times and golf became a luxury… and I realized soccer was not like it used to be… as a matter of fact soccer ceased to exist for me because I became transfixed by The Spaniards passing and movement in 2010. Futbol. At a point of deep tension and exhaustion and work and sleepless nights and babies crying there was the moving meditation of human chess as evidenced by the spanish game.
    I will root for Spain until they are dethroned because I owe the deep and passionate love I have reignited for football to them. Enjoy the Cup.

    • As an aside. While I love the game in this country, am completely invested in the outcome in Brazil for us, recognize the amazing growth that has occurred and do not wish ill will on our players- I am also of the mindset that US Soccer administrators are transfixed by the windmills of Cervantes’ Don Quixote and need a complete philosophy change- that starts all the way at the youth level up to and including the USMNT.

      • what would you say are the windmills the us is tilting at?

      • In 200 words or less?

        Defining a philosophy and style of play that recognizes the utter importance of tactical fundamentals for the youth players of the US and divorcing itself from the notion that the game is the best teacher would be the first step.
        Then you need to have properly equipped teachers throughout the youth ranks deploying the philosophy whatever it may be (Counter attacking style, possession style, high pressing style) that comes so naturally to other footballing nations — so when our USMNT gets together guys like Omar Gonzalez don’t have to marvel at the education as something groundbreaking or new like he is learning the piano.
        Next? The pay to play “academy” hierarchy that ostracizes 65% of the population from the inner bowels of our country in favor of suburban kids who touch a ball at practice then in the game but not in between. This is a wicked generalization but not too far off I feel. I will say that slowly, the national teams are beginning to look more like a cross section of our melting pot.
        Many more windmills even.

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