Putting a close to one of the more colorful seasons in recent memory, Spanish Football ended its 2012-13 run this past weekend.
Atletico Madrid, now without the services of its crucial scorer, Radamel Falcao (heading for an $82 million Monaco transfer and Ligue 1 duties–http://bit.ly/11RntXc), deservedly won the Copa del Rey over a listless Real Madrid. Barcelona (perhaps moving into the post Tito Vilanova era) ran away with the La Liga title on the strength of its early showing, during Lionel Messi’s uninjured playing time.
Malaga got bounced unfairly out of the Champions League by eventual finalists Dortmund. PSG deservedly bounced Valencia out of contention. Real Madrid (now without the Only One and despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s 12 goals–http://bit.ly/1aWeMud) fell prey to Dortmun, by a single score differential. Barca got humiliated (0-7, albeit without Messi) by eventual Champions League winners, and Bundesliga and German cup winners, Bayern Munich.
The mixed Spanish club results domestically and internationally had a major impact on the British press who immediately called it the demise of Spanish Football’s global dominance. As an extension, they wondered if this augured a decline for the Spanish National Football Team (SNFT) as well. Similarly, many more in the global football media wondered if this turn of events meant the Bundesliga was now the top football league in Europe, or the world, and if the Germans should now be touted as higher profile favorites for the 2014 World Cup.
Witness World Soccer‘s cover story last month “The World’s Best League,” which boasts an “exclusive 2013 global survey” that goes well beyond club strength or their results in international competition, to measure revenue, number of top players in each league, club game attendance, and the like. They conclude that the Bundesliga is indeed the best one on the planet. Furthermore, they clamor that the English Premiership came in second with Spain’s La Liga now in third place. Methinks the eulogies are a bit premature.
The SNFT did stumble earlier this year, suffering home draws to Finland and France in World Cup 2014 qualifiers. But they came back with a convincing 1-0 victory in Paris over the French to climb back on top of their group. Finland will be on the SFNT’s crosshairs when they host the Spaniards this coming September 6th.
The SNFT then took to the road and notched friendly victories away over Uruguay (3-1–http://bit.ly/11RnKcR) and Panama (5-1–http://bit.ly/17SlVzC), and they have set up early June touring visits to the USA to play Eire and Haiti, and to Ecuador where they will play Paraguay. All this in preparation for the Confederations Cup in Brazil this coming June 15-30. The team is still considered one of the two favorites to win that tournament, and if they win, questions about the decline of the SNFT will be laid to rest until the 2014 World Cup. At that time, those questions will be about the team’s chance at football history immortality.
What makes things most interesting, though, is the potential this summer augurs for the Spanish Football club sides. Let’s imagine a healthy Messi jelling with a sparkling Neymar, backed by co-FIFA Ballon d’Or nominees Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Let me hear how many would bet against that foursome. Imagine if Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Marcelo, Luka Modric, and Xavi Alonso remain at Real Madrid and the new coach decides to play Kaka as a starter. Who would bet against that line up?
The 2012-13 Spanish Football season saw three Spanish teams among the eight quarter-finalists in the Champions League. This time around, each La Liga representative had a major and mostly unforeseen circumstance play a key role in their fateful encounters–Real had its locker room meltdown with the resulting benching of key players as it met Dortmund, a hobbled Messi could not play for Barca against Bayern, and hosts Dortmund had two offside goals allowed, in two minutes of stoppage time, against a Malaga who had been ahead in regular time. It could be fairly argued that each Spanish club team lost to teams who played better on those given days, but it would be unwise to assume that the odds are good for those game-deciding circumstances to repeat themselves in 2013-14.