La Roja have had a tumultuous World Cup history, but nevertheless enjoyed their fare share off success, including the 2010 triumph
Spain was never a footballing powerhouse until only recently. In fact, in 12 appearances at the World Cups before the triumph in South Africa in 2010, La Roja made it to the last 4 only once! Despite boasting a formidable side on various occasions, the consistent failure earned them the tag of underachievers.
But it all began to change with the Euro 2008 victory before Spain finally dropped the parochialism badge and claimed its first and long-awaited World Cup glory two years later. The country’s new ‘golden generation’ finally delivered on the biggest stage, surpassing the golden generations of old. And after the debacle in Brazil, are readying to herald another epoch of dominance.
So given the chequered World Cup record, Spain has only a handful of moments that are worth cherishing. But let’s whittle it down to the top 5:
#5 The first ever World cup participation (1934)
After refraining to mount a daunting trip to Uruguay for the inaugural edition, Spain made its first appearance at the World Cup in the next edition held in neighboring Italy. With no group games to negotiate first, La Roja was drawn against Brazil in the round of 16 and came away with a 3-1 victory; a comprehensive win in the nation’s first ever World Cup game.
Hosts Italy was up next in the quarter-finals, and Spain were defeated 1-0 in the replay after a 1-1 stalemate initially. Despite the World Cup featuring just 4 rounds of games (all knockouts), Spain’s quarter-final exit was seen as a fairly successful debut.
#4 The fourth-place finish in Brazil (1950)
Then in the next World Cup participation (they withdrew from 1938 one due to Spanish civil war), Spain achieved a respectable finish when it came fourth behind champions Uruguay, Brazil and Sweden. With many great sides competing, La Roja’s march to the semi-finals was a bit of a surprise.
Led by the peerless Telmo Zarra, Spain won all 3 group games against USA, Chile, and England, but found the going to be tough in the second round, where they given a hiding by Brazil before another comprehensive defeat at the hands of Sweden confirmed a fourth-place finish. Yet, considering the circumstances then, Spain had surpassed all expectations and mind you, the fourth-place finish remained the team’s best performance at the World Cups until they reached the finals six decades later in 2010!
#3 The 5-1 demolition of Denmark (1986)
After an underwhelming show on home soil in 1982, Spain came to Mexico four years later with intent. Another disappointing campaign beckoned when Brazil consigned them to a 1-0 defeat in the opening game, but Spain soon recovered to progress to the knock-outs and made their intentions clear with Denmark demolition in the round of 16.
The Danes weren’t a big side then, but the scintillating Spanish attack on show stole the limelight. After Jesper Olsen’s penalty gave the minnows an unexpected lead, Real Madrid legend Emilio Butragueno struck four times to propel La Roja into the quarter-finals with an eventual 5-1 win – Spain’s biggest win to date.
The striker also became the highest scoring Spaniard in a single World Cup game, whilst also joining the elite group of players to have scored 4 times in a single game in the competition.
#2 Finishing unbeaten (2002)
At FIFA 2006 World Cup exit in the round of 16, Spain was confirmed as the perennial underachievers in world football. But the seeds for the same were sown somewhere in 2002 when a promising side consisting of Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Xavi, Raul, Fernando Hierro, Fernando Morientes et al flattered to deceive. But, one pertinent point to note from their excursions in Japan and South Korea is that they came away unbeaten.
Having defeated each of Paraguay, South Africa, and Slovenia, Spain ousted Ireland on penalties in the round of 16, before enduring a similar fate at the hands of hosts South Korea. It was a controversial exit, as the Egyptian official of that game made several questionable calls that favored the hosts and ultimately fostered their progress to the last 4.
Still, Spain remained unbeaten and wrote home a unique record for a non-World Cup winning team.
#1 Iniesta’s injury-time strike seals World cup glory (2010)
Despite losing the first game to Switzerland in a whimper of an opener, Spain soldiered their way to its first final against the Netherlands, both of whom hadn’t won any World cups before. But given the former’s tag of European champions, Vincente Del Bosque’s side were slight favorites.
In a very openly contested match that saw both sides miss several gilt-edged opportunities, the final headed into the extra-time. In the 116th minute, Iniesta drove through a gap in the Dutch defense and latched on to Cesc Fabregas’ cross with a delightful volley beyond the goalkeeper. Spain had the breakthrough and held on to it until the end to be crowned the world champions.
That squad wrote its name in the history books, and more importantly, established Spain as a true footballing giant.