The end comes quickly. One moment and it’s all over.
There’s something strange, slightly unreal about that moment when a team is eliminated from a tournament, no matter how many times you experience it. Farewells were said on Monday evening as the sun set over Bisham Abbey and the media headed for the exit leaving the Spanish team without them for the rest of the evening. This spot on the Thames, with its 13th-century mansion and manicured lawns, had been their home for two weeks, but they knew they might not be coming back.
Or they could be.
The next morning, the Spanish national team traveled to Brighton, where they played England in the quarter-finals of Euro 2022. Lose and they’d be out; lose and there would be no more sessions to attend, no reason to return, just the end. These people – like the perky security guard who had learned a Spanish line, “Time to go folks” – would never be seen again.
In truth, most thought that Spain would also lose. Spain’s players got the idea that a lot of people thought they weren’t just going to lose, they were going to be destroyed. Which might suit them.
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“England are favourites,” said midfielder Patri Guijarro. Coach Jorge Vilda went through their virtues, speaking so ardently and for so long that it began to sound impossible.
And yet there they were, two nights later, now very close. They had done what no one had done before and scored against Sarina Wiegman’s side. 1-0 v England, in England with six minutes to go, within reach of reaching the semis. They not only beat England; they had torn England apart.
“The way they played, the way they came into the game, everyone said ‘oooh, they’re going to score five goals’ and that’s how we played,” said midfielder Aitana Bonmati. “We bathed her.”
A bath is a step, a whitewash; they had trained the hosts.
“On the pitch I felt the nervousness they had: they didn’t stop talking to each other, you could see them looking at each other with their arms raised and their faces frustrated,” added Bonmati. “They were down. We had taken her to a place where no one else had taken her. We brought them to the edge.”
And then they withdrew from it. Spain had begun to believe. It really happened, they could actually do this. All would eventually go back; This journey continued and did not end here. The pessimism was gone, although my nerves were just as bad now. It was chaos in Brighton, the noise like nothing it had heard. And England was relentless and threw everything she had at Spain. They were desperate now. Everyone was. And yet the odds didn’t quite exist, and time ticked on.
Until it happened.
A goal put England back in the game and Spain out of the game, angry at what they believed was a foul on centre-back Irene Paredes, at first losing heads for a while. Reserve goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez shot a cooler on the touchline. Another goal sent England on in a 2-1 win, as always seemed likely when extra time came. And yet it was still a moment, a shot. And it was gone. All of that over. Just when they thought maybe…
And so there was this strange stillness afterwards, like something had been taken away, a change of plans. Flights need to be booked, no point hanging around here anymore. Not players, although they too, but dozens of people, done.
Tears flowed as the Spanish players walked down the tunnel. Bonmati and No.1 Sandra Panos discussed what had happened, nothing they could do now. Angry, deaf. A few days later, they still couldn’t quite digest it. All this for… nothing? It’s never really nothing, but it feels like it. It happened too fast to really understand. So good but gone. When asked how she was feeling, Paredes said, “Hurt.”
There wasn’t much more to say. The Spanish players gathered in a circle in the center of the pitch. Vilda told them he was proud of them, that they should go with their heads held high. Many left with tears in their eyes, some angry. Some bit their tongues. There was a lot to be happy about, but it wasn’t the right moment. It was hinted that they had failed to impress in the group stage and were struggling to find a way to the final, but Germany and Denmark, two of the most successful sides around, had completely changed their style to protect themselves from Spain. And that says a lot.
As the comments of the German and Danish coaches underlined, this style thing can sometimes also perpetuate itself: when you have that good possession, the opponents give up the right to fight for the ball and you get even more of it. There are always two that belong to it. Tactics also include two. When that happens, your chances of mistaking it are even lower, and you’ve got a packed, deep defense waiting for you. This is not easy on any level.
Spain’s style is based on conviction, but it’s not just philosophy for fun: they believe it’s the best way to win. What can I say if you change this style would you get better results?
Here was proof. Spain was Spain to the end. Or maybe they weren’t, not quite. The well-known and occasionally flippant complaint is that they lack a plan B, but in the group stage they had three of their goals from a header, the other from a penalty and when they scored the K. There was a moment when they strayed from the plan A removed when they stopped holding the ball, trying to protect a bit to get over the line. Maybe that’s just human: you could see it so close and tried to hold on for a bit.
“We deserved more,” said Paredes after the game. Many players had nothing to say and could hardly believe it. Yes, there had been weaknesses and no, it wasn’t a perfect tournament: one couldn’t help but wonder if Vilda’s constant insistence on being favorites for other teams might have had a negative impact. The third midfielder was not clear, Vilda tried four different players there alongside Guijarro and Bonmati. Neither was the role of the strikers. Risks were not taken. Leila Ouahabi had lost her place as a full-back. They lacked fluidity against Denmark and got caught too often, especially by Pernille Harder. They needed a save from Panos in the final stages of the game to go through.
But just when almost everyone thought they were going out, they were in. “To create something great, you need a bit of luck,” Guijarro said. Spain had been very unlucky, losing Ballon d’Or winner (Alexia Putellas) and Ballon d’Or runner-up (Jennifer Hermoso) before the tournament. They try to do that for every team. They conceded after 49 seconds on the opening day. Germany had taken the lead by a terrible mistake, a moment of madness. And then they had played as well as everyone else in every game and lost. The goal that changed it, they thought, should have been a foul. To be honest, they felt betrayed. And in the end, that’s what they did to them.
England had scored fourteen goals. Fourteen. They hadn’t conceded anything. And then this happened. England had been marginalized and had to suffer to survive.
“What we saw suggests that no team was better than Spain,” said Vilda. He emphasized: “We have a great future. Hopefully the wind will blow in our favor next time.”
“We have to try again,” said striker Athenea del Castillo. Bonmati said she didn’t want to retire without winning a major tournament. She’s only 24 and the proof was that she might not have to. But not this one. In the end they lost too.
Especially Bonmati and striker Mariona Caldentey were amazing. Bonmati was a “joke,” said one British commentator, the best player he’s ever seen, one whose touch and tight control was so great she could “dribble around you in a phone box”. She controlled everything.
“My father says I’m like a police officer,” she said, “directing traffic.”
So what? She was twice player of the match, against Finland and Denmark. It certainly would have been again, but for that written rule that there has to be a winner. And yet asked about it, she shrugged.
“Two MVPs and a pretty good performance. …”
“Very,” someone shot back.
“Thank you,” she said quietly, “but it’s no use: we’re in the quarter-finals. Individual awards don’t matter: I wanted to leave here with the team champions.”
One player admitted she still couldn’t believe it the next day, at home before it even got it. And Captain Paredes had trouble articulating it, the emptiness.
“It’s a missed opportunity,” she said.
All this is taken away in a moment, the end is coming quickly.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/uefa-womens-european-championship/story/4704909/spains-euro-2022-came-to-an-abrupt-endjust-as-they-began-to-believe-we-deserved-more Spain’s Euro 2022 came to an abrupt end, just as they began to believe: ‘We deserved more’