Spain Wins the World Cup to Become Soccer Royalty

Spain’s extraordinary win in the 2010 World Cup means the country now joins a rarefied group of soccer royalty – Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy and France – as one of the handful of countries to win the game’s highest honor.  The defining features of the Spanish team were their midfield dominance — Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas  and Alonso– and their close passing game (that and the emergence of David Villa as a Paoli Rossi-like figure scoring goals against some of the most impenetrable defenses in recent history). Some of us older fans were even reminded of the French teams of the 1980’s that comprised Tigana, Fernandez, Girresse and the incomparable Michel Platini.  What’s curious is they actually lost their first group match to Switzerland 1-0. The Spanish coach, Vincente Del Bosque, to his credit, didn’t panic and refused to go back on his strategy of attractive, attacking football. Once the Spanish midfield took control of the midfield in a game, it was difficult for their opponents to have a look-in. The mighty Germans, for example, who easily dispatched England and Argentina with their counterattacks, came unstuck against Spain as the Spanish team denied them space and used their short passing game to press their offense.

Spain’s euphoria over its World Cup win is a signal of the profound impact that soccer (and by extension sports) can have on a national psyche.  Hundreds of thousands jammed Madrid’s avenues as an open air bus conveyed the national team past a sea of red and yellow, the colors of the Spanish flag. The celebration in Madrid, where national unity is at its strongest, was expected. But there was support from other places: The Catalonia region, which has long sought greater autonomy, and the separatist Basque region, where anything pro-Spain is often anathema. For a country that emerged from 40 years of brutal fascist rule under Franco and that now struggles with 20% unemployment, the victory couldn’t have come at a better time.  Spanish Finance and Economy Minister Elena Salgado told reporters Monday that winning the World Cup “generates confidence in our country, here and abroad, and that will also be good for GDP,” she added. An ABN Amro Bank study into the macro-economic effects of the tournament suggested a World Cup provided a GDP gain of 0.7 percentage points, a figure that some economists dispute. There is no question: Spain deserves the World Cup.  Let us hope it helps to boost the country’s fortunes, from its  anemic growth of 0.1 percent of GDP over the first quarter of this year and its projected 0.3 percent contraction over 2010.

Rodrigo Silva is AlterNow’s soccer correspondent.  Based in Malaysia, he teaches business and marketing at the MBA level at Segi College in Kuala Lumpur.