Spain was an excited country in the spring of 2018. Julen Lopeteguiafter the previous World Cup and Euro Cup fiascoes, had revitalized the team with an impeccable qualifying phase at the hands of a generation that he himself had molded in the lower categories (Asensio, De Gea, Thiago, Isco, Koke…), who joined the survivors of the quadrennium of glory still at an age to shine (the central couple, Busquets, Alba and Iniesta). Despite the bad game in the friendlies prior to the Russian event, a draw with Switzerland and a Pyrrhic victory against Tunisia, the indicators were green.
A week before the debut against Portugal, however, while the motion of no confidence that evicted Mariano Rajoy from La Moncloa was being cooked, the Surprise resignation of Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid manager triggered a domino effect. Florentino Pérez hired Lopetegui to replace the man from Marseillaise and announced it on the eve of the World Cup, unleashing what is commonly known as a cuckold attack in Luis Rubiales, the trade unionist (presumably venal, we know today) who had held the presidency of the RFEF for less than a month. Like Walter Cronkite’s bird, which if it’s web-footed and goes quack is probably a duck, Villar’s successor acted exactly as the look of him intuited he might act: withering dismissal.
To fire the coach just over 48 hours after his debut in a World Cup, you have to have a lot of rennet, but that was what Luis Rubiales did. On June 13 at mid-afternoon, Lopetegui left the concentration of the selection in Krasnodar and on the night of the 15th, Spain played against Portugal in Sochi a match directed by Fernando Hierro, with no experience on the bench and who until then officiated as sports director of the Federation, whatever that means. What could go wrong? Well, exactly and specifically, everything.
It would be very tempting to argue that the game against the Portuguese was tied due to the shortcomings of Spain’s coaching staff, but the truth is that that 3-3 not glorious against a decadent European champion was given by the goalkeeper De Gea with his rag hands. Cristiano Ronaldo abused with a hat-trick of his today teammate at Manchester United, Diego Costa He defended his controversial ownership with a double and Nacho scored a great goal that should have been the winner. A short and ugly victory (again Diego Costa) over Iran and a an agonizing tie, with a goal by Iago Aspas at the last minute, against Morocco they classified Spain for the round of 16 as group leader.
Russia, an unreliable host that Uruguay had dispatched on the third day with a summary 0-3, was the first rival of an unusually open team until the final, since Brazil, France, Argentina and Belgium traveled through the opposite half. . Fate winked at the Spanish team.
To make matters worse, the game started at Luzhniki with a Ignashevich own goal that thwarted the only plan of the Russians: defend themselves at all costs and try to surprise in a counter. The only option for Spain to fall was self-sabotage, which was exactly what he perpetrated on the edge of the break Pique –buddy and partner of Rubiales– when clearing a ball that rained down on the area without any danger. Dziuba they tied on a penalty and in a penalty shootout Russia qualified for the quarterfinals, after a soporific exhibition of lateral and innocuous play by the team, which exceeded a thousand passes in the 120 minutes that the game lasted. The once-revolutionary tiki-taka had become a parody of himself.