By Martin Williams
Possession football, intricate passing and scoring beautiful goals are the modern trademarks of Spanish football teams, so when the chance to follow them up close and personal was not one to be passed up. This time, though, it was not Xavi and his famous international teammates, but the Spanish representative team at the inaugural 8×8 Cup for Embassies and Diplomatic Missions in Russia. I spent some time with captain Alejandro De Prado and his compatriots to get the rundown on playing out international football fantasies.
Goals, goals, goals. The qualifying fixtures of the first weekend were nothing if not consistent. Spain dispatched each of their opponents 3 â 0, using their awareness of colleagues and a good level of fitness to make and pick out some excellent runs. The commanding presence at the back of Oriol Ripoll, who often mopped up the opposition through balls and started successful moves himself, set the tone for the whole team. However, the star of the show was Juan Lopez, whose hard work down the channels created numerous chances for himself and his teammates. Three goals, including a perfectly angled finish off the crossbar, set up the Spanish as favourites for the final stages of the tournament the following week.
Having repeated their favourite 3 â 0 scoreline over Venezuela in the semi-final, Serbia were waiting for Spain in the final. Their experienced front line caused problems for the Spanish defence, eventually applying a sucker punch and taking the lead with a well-taken goal from the edge of the penalty area. The punishment for the Spanish profligacy in front of goal was short-lived, though, as a cool finish by Francisci Guaita into the bottom right hand corner kept the scores even going into the half-time break.
There was only one team capable of winning once the second half got under way. Spurred on by Lopez, who wanted to prove that 41-year olds can run with purpose for a whole half an hour, the Spanish attacked with verve and panache. Firstly, Lopez latched on to a dangerous free kick aimed perfectly for him to fire a bullet header past the goalkeeper at the near post. Then he chased a lost cause down the inside right channel, firing hard and low into the same corner. A well-controlled long pass briefly made things interesting, but Lopez decided to finish the match in style, the Sales Director easily selling the defender a dummy before rounding the goalkeeper and completing a âperfectâ hat-trick with his left foot. Four goals to Spain, two conceded, plenty of entertainment and the Tournamentâs Best Player accolade to top scorer Juan Lopez. I wonder if any of the other nations will fancy their chances of toppling the Spanish from their perch in the near futureâ¦
Congratulations and great thanks to the whole Spanish squad: Alejandro De Prado (Captain), Juan Lopez, Francisco Guaita, Hector Martinez Martin, Paco Olmedo, Jaime Sampio, Ivan Baos, Pedro Lopez, Fernandez Miguel, Diego Montero, Juan Pedro Delaunay, Julio Postigo, Miguel Barinaga, Oriol Mayoral, Vicente Llacer, Patrick Aedo, Oriol Ripoll.