SAO PAULO (TIP): Nothing lasts forever – empires, dynasties, life itself. That’s what makes the passing of one of the greatest sides in the history of any sport so poignant – and so human, because time takes its toll on the best of us. There was a certain inexorable inevitability about the end of Spain’s reign. It’s not that we did not see it coming. It’s the brutal suddenness with which it happened that has left the world in such a daze.
The 1-5 humiliation by the Netherlands wasn’t about just another defending champion stumbling and falling; it was as if a hammer and nail had been employed to serve eviction notice. No one expected Spain to return to its magical best in their next game, against Chile; that’s what fairy tales are for. But we had hoped for at least a determined fight-back, a few flashes of the old self.
What we witnessed instead was a dejected and directionless team (barring Iniesta, who stood like the boy on the burning deck), a pale shadow of the team that had won two successive European championships and a World Cup in between – and along the way, had redefined football with their tiki-taka style. Long before the final whistle was blown, the obituaries had begun to flow. An era had ended.
It was a lump-in-the-throat moment, and not just for Spain. Sports fans (and the media) tend to be fickle, swinging from one extreme to another – heaping praise one moment, and ridicule, the other. But when you see true greatness finally laid to rest, the overwhelming emotion is one of sadness. So when Spain’s captain and once-vaunted goalkeeper, Iker Casillas – who let in seven goals in two games after having conceded none in the 10 games before – said, “We are sorry”, one of the country’s leading newspapers graciously responded saying, “Don’t be, you have given us so much. It was lovely while it lasted.” We couldn’t have said it better. To Xavi, Iniesta and the team, we say, thank you for the music.