There is no secret in the fact that Barcelona players were the key to the success of Spanish football's golden generation. Rather than creating a separate identity, Spain's national football team became an extension of Barcelona thanks to the presence of influential players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets. Barcelona dominated European football like no other club in the late noughties. Spain reached the pinnacle in 2010 when they clinched the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
La Roja arrived in South Africa as firm favourites. Just two years earlier, under manager Luis Aragones, Spain had won the European championship, beating Germany 1-0. The team was not lacking in terms of talent, but winning the World Cup depended a lot on mental strength too. Vicente del Bosque's men got off to a worst possible start when they were stunned 0-1 in their opening game by a spirited Switzerland side.
Not just the defeat, the injury to their talisman midfielder Iniesta made matters more complicated for Spain. There were some concerns regarding Iniesta's fitness before the start of the event. He had missed the majority of the previous season due to injury and then had to deal with the death of close friend and fellow professional footballer Dani Jarque. Iniesta couldn't play the full match against Switzerland and subsequently did not participate in Spain's next game. The team bounced back in their next match against Honduras, beating them 2-0 thanks to a brace by David Villa.
After gaining back some momentum, La Roja were also bolstered with the return of Iniesta, who scored a goal against Chile. Spain emerged 2-1 winners from the game and ensured their progress to the Round of 16 stage. Spain displayed exactly their winning mentality in the knockout stages. With a series of 1-0 victories against Portugal, Paraguay and Germany, Spain entered the final of the World Cup. Iniesta and his Barcelona teammate and midfield general Xavi played pivotal roles in Spain's progression in the World Cup. Xavi was outstanding against Paraguay and in Germany's match, it was from his corner-kick that Puyol headed the winner, thus ensuring a spot in the final.
The partnership of Xavi and Iniesta in the midfield worked wonders for Barcelona. Playing for the national team in an important tournament, the duo displayed same intensity and dynamism to put their team en route to glory.
The final was against Netherlands, who were also fighting for their first FIFA World Cup trophy. Spain was synonymous to free-flowing football, so there was little chance that they would change their game plan. So Netherlands, under Bert van Marwijk, took the physical approach. The beautiful game became ugly in the final with the English referee Howard Webb showing as many as 13 yellow cards and one red to Dutch player John Heitinga.
Both the teams enjoyed a fair share of chances, but they failed to break the deadlock for a long time. The goal finally arrived, for Spain, in the 116th minute when substitute Fabregas threaded an incisive pass to Iniesta on the right and the Barcelona man made no mistake in slotting the ball into the net. Wild celebrations followed as Iniesta removed his jersey and his white vest displayed a touching tribute to his friend Jarque. The handwritten message on his vest read: "Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros" ("Dani Jarque, always with us"). The match ended with the scoreline reading 1-0 in favour of Spain.
Despite the initial hiccup, Spain managed to find form and win their first FIFA World Cup, doing justice to the favourites tag. Spain had a once-in-a-generation kind of squad and it's only fair that they won football's most coveted trophy.
To read about other FIFA World Cup moments, click here.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 20:10:25 IST