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Spain-USA firsthand: I'm Full of Yellow Pride

Bruno was still getting ready, but the other four came out early and had this picture taken!  Borja sent it via twitter after the game.
Bruno was still getting ready, but the other four came out early and had this picture taken! Borja sent it via twitter after the game.

     By now you've probably all read various match reports from the game, I'm sure.  I haven't yet, and I plan to watch the tape of the match today as well, but I didn't want any of that to cloud my firsthand impressions, particularly from the perspective of a Villarreal supporter.  So, here goes.

     Having grown up at a time when soccer was a really marginal sport in the US (soccer was viewed as something "foreign" , and the World Cup as of no interest since the US MNT had no chance to qualify for it---they couldn't beat Guadeloupe in those days) it was pretty amazing to see guys who played for the US in the World Cup in the past like Cobi Jones, Ernie Stewart and Alexi Lalas at the match yesterday.  And when the players walked onto the field with the little kids and the anthems started I had tears in my eyes.

     It hadn't been well publicized, but at least when the tickets first went on sale you could choose between a Spanish or a US section.  I chose Spain, which was a good idea as it turned out.  I was on an aisle, next to me a guy from Rhode Island with his two kids, one wearing a Villa La Roja shirt and the other one with Xavi on the back, I think.   Many folks who had made the trip from Spain were down from me and were mostly all wearing Spain tops, many with scarves and flags. 

   The starting lineup was much different from what I had posted based on what had been posted on Twitter.  I don't know why, but it was hard to criticize the way it went.  From the beginning La Furia Roja looked very dangerous--they seemed to be over their jet lag, and the little touch passing of Santi Cazorla and David Silva were creating lots of problems.  The pitch looked awful, and I'm sure it was (surely it could've been rolled or something to at least make the strips of sod fit together better?) but it didn't seem to affect the quality of Spain's play.

   Of course as a Villarreal supporter I was noticing Santi especially, but he was hard not to notice.  He looked great.  Spain had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, and David Villa had already gone close a couple of times when the first goal came.  I didn't realize it was Santi's at first because he and Villa were both going for the ball!

   Negredo seemed a little unsure of himself at first (nerves, I'm sure) and in the beginning wasn't as involved in the attacks as he could have been--it seemed as though Santi/Silva/Villa were the attackers with most to offer.  But he took his goal well, set up with a long pass from Xabi Alonso.  The Sevilla man turned his ankle later though, and was subbed at the half.

  Santi's second goal was a thing of beauty--reminded me of one he scored this season against Málaga, I think it was.  It was a golazo, for sure, beating Tim Howard on the short side.  In the stadium, it seemed to take everyone a split second to realize the ball was in the net--did he actually do that?--then the cheering erupted. (My wife said that's the way it seemed on TV, too!)

   Pretty much all the action had been at the end of the pitch where I was, and the third goal really seemed to deflate the US fans.  Spain was giving a masterclass in passing and attacking football, constantly probing and finding spaces, and the US was chasing shadows.  They never had a chance to impose their physicality--they couldn't get close enough. 

  Arbeloa pretty much set up camp in the US half and was constantly open on the overlap--he could have pitched a tent there and enjoyed a bocadillo, he was so open,  the US center backs were unable to deal with the little touch passes from Santi and Silva, who were both awesome, and whenever the ball arrived past midfield Xabi Alonso immediately started the attack again with an incisive pass.

     It could have been 5-0 by the half, frankly, and that wouldn't have been an unfair scoreline given how the two teams played.  The only chance I remember the US had was when Piqué tripped himself, or something, and the ball fell to Rogers but he shot it wide.

Second Half

     I had been frankly embarrassed by the USMNT first half performance, so was happy Bradley tried to recover some face by making five changes at the half (Altidore, who I think never touched the ball in the first half, was one of those subbed).  Spain brought on Torres for Negredo, Iniesta for Villa, and Bruno for Busquets. 

Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, in particular, immediately injected some quality in midfield that had been lacking.  (Landon Donovan came down sick, I gather, and he was severely missed).  I was glad to see the US make a bit more of a game of it, at least in midfield.

   I thought Bruno was nervous and in the early going let players run at him too much before taking them on, but he seemed to settle down and get into the flow of the game after a bit.   Santi (and Silva) were still flitting around creating trouble for the US defense, too.  Meanwhile the crowd was having a good time in my section--the Spanish guy with the  huge drum had arrived and between the warmth of the sun and there no longer being any doubt who would win the game, the beer vendors were doing some good business.

   On the pitch, the US did win a couple of corners, but for the most part the Spanish passing masterclass continued.  Torres fluffed a chance to score, I remember.  In the 64th minute or thereabouts came two more subs--Joan Capdevila for Sergio Ramos, and Borja Valero for David Silva.  So an historic occasion--not just Borja's debut, but the first time four of the Yellow Submarine have been on the pitch in Spanish colors at the same time.

   Borja, I have to say, may have been nervous, but didn't look it.  He was soon involved in the thick of things, and ten minutes after coming in he played one of his perfectly weighted through balls, the kind we've been accustomed to seeing all year, up to Torres and this time Nando did not miss, guiding the ball off the inside of the far post and into the net.  A perfect start for Borja's La Roja career, and a badly-needed confidence booster for Torres.

   There was some cool combination passing among the four Submarine players--it was just like watching Villarreal!!--and Capdevila put a header over the bar that would have produced the manita.  Another great moment came when Spain made their final substitution, bringing off Pepe Reina for Iker Casillas to a huge, huge ovation and chants of "Iker! Iker!".  

     I've never heard such an outpouring of love, pride and affection for a player as when he came on.  It's not just that he's a great goalkeeper, it's that he captained the first Spain side to win the World Cup, and he's the player who lifted the trophy (which was at the stadium, by the way).

   Unlike Pepe, Iker actually had to do something.  A US player was played through, but his touch was too heavy and Iker got to the ball before he did.  Borja had a shot blocked at the other end, I think.   The ref blew his whistle right when the 90 minutes was up.

    Fernando Torres was interviewed on the pitch afterward and thanked everyone for coming, etc. and I saw Santi being interviewed on Spanish TV at one corner of the pitch before disappearing into the tunnel.

     Walking back to my car (which took forever) I met a fan from Sporting Gijon, one from Athletic Bilbao (sadly, none of their players got into the game), and a family in Uruguay jerseys, all of whom recognized my Villarreal camiseta right away.  And I got lots of waves and shouts of "Cazorla!" as I headed along.  The American fans I overheard were dejected, but at the same time appreciated the display they had seen.  

    My favorite encounter though happened in the stadium, with a guy I had first seen walking in who saw my jersey then, shouted "Cazorla" and gave me a thumbs-up.  Turned out he was sitting down from me, so he saw me again when he came up the aisle for something.  When he returned he stopped and asked, "Desde Villarreal?"  No, I said, American.  His eyes widened.  "American? And you support Villarreal? Let me give you a hug!   You know a great team!"

   So on that note, virtual hugs to all of you Villarreal supporters reading this!  As in La Liga, so it was yesterday in La Roja: there are the big two, but.... THE ALTERNATIVE IS YELLOW.   QUÉ GRANDE ES EL VILLARREAL!!