Sometimes there were tears of rage. Once there was even blood.
Spain had never beaten Italy in regulation time in seven meetings in a major tournament going into Sunday. The only victory over Italy had come in a penalty-kick in the 2008 Euros quarterfinals when Iker Casillas saved two shots.
It is hard to believe that Spain is the great dynasty for one generation in the history of the sport. Not long ago the Spaniards were seen as under-achievers, long on talent but short on will. I've read articles in Spanish papers back in the day with Spanish observors fretting over a litany of losses in the World Cup and the Euros, brooding if there was something wrong with the way people were raising their sons.
That blather is over now that Spain is the champion of three straight major tournaments, after the 4-0 drubbing of Italy on Sunday in the Euro final. Even if the last two goals were accomplished while Italy was gassed, and short a player because of injury, it was still an overwhelming victory. Spanish players ran and Spanish players passed, and the lines met at the perfect spot near the goal. We are getting used to this art. It is hard to remember the misery of the past generation.
The most painful defeat came in the 1994 World Cup quarterfinals in Foxboro, Mass., when Roberto Baggio scored a late goal for a 2-1 victory. That match ended with Luis Enrique of Spain rolling on the ground after Mauro Tassotti cold-cocked him in the nose with an elbow.
The cheap shot from Tassotti remains tied for the most vicious play in World Cup history with West Germany’s Toni Schumacher’s human steamroller hip check that broke the jaw of France’s Patrick Battiston in the 1982 semifinal.
In those primitive times of 1994, the lone-ranger referee, Sandor Puhl of Hungary, got no help from his two sideline assistants and no electronic advisory from FIFA Central on a headset. He had missed the play and could only wonder why Luis Enrique’s jersey was suddenly flecked with blood.
Two sidelights to that ugly moment:
*- By the time FIFA caught up with the play, Italy was through to the finals, and Spain was long gone. But Tassotti received an eight-match suspension for international play, and was never chosen to the Azzurri again. It took Tassotti 17 years to shake hands with Luis Enrique, before a match in Milan last year.
*- In the video, as the Spanish players tried to alert the hapless ref what had occurred out of his vision, one Spanish player has the name Nadal on his jersey. It is indeed Miguel Angel Nadal, uncle and one of the great role models for that current Spanish sportsman, Rafael Nadal. And, yes, that is Pep Guardiola, then a Span defender, recently the Barca coach, milling around with other frustrated Spanish players in 1994.
The blood of 1994 was ancient history in Kiev on Sunday. Italy has been a perpetual dynasty since winning its first of four World Cups in 1934. It had a good tournament, in the face of soccer scandals back home after a disastrous 2010 World Cup. But after a long and painful path, Spain is now a dynasty.
The New York Times is running a Goal blog asking readers how they rank Spain with all sports champions.
Here, I want to congratulate Spain for joining the great soccer nations like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy.
Much better to be remembered for rolling past Italy in 2012 than for suffering the cheap shot from Tassotti in 1994.
Your comments are welcome about Spain's coming-of-age. .
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.