While Spain’s World Cup winners have reminisced fondly about returning to the scene of their 2010 final win, the South African public are less excited about Tuesday’s friendly in Johannesburg.
Bafana Bafana will not be at next year’s finals in Brazil, having been surprisingly eliminated in the second qualifying round by relative minnows Ethiopia, and are going through yet another process of regeneration under current coach Gordon Igesund.
The Johannesburg stadium where the 2010 World Cup final was played has also changed in the three years since -- it is no longer called Soccer City as naming rights have been sold to the First National Bank. The 90,000-seater ground was sold out for a Bruce Springsteen concert last February, but only 30,000 tickets have reportedly been sold for the visit of the world champions.
Nevertheless Andres Iniesta, having earlier visited the spot just inside the penalty area from where he hit his 116th-minute winner against Netherlands, told Monday’s pre-game news conference that returning brought back emotional memories for the Spanish players.
“I was out there for a moment,” Iniesta said. “It is difficult to explain the feelings, in a place where such special things happened, these are different feelings, that run through your whole body. On that day it felt different, it seemed to be the pitch was huge, that the goalposts were so far away. There are very emotional memories for everyone.”
The Barcelona man also talked through his recollection of how the famous goal happened.
“It was just instinctual,” Iniesta said. “I saw I was in space, waiting for the pass from Cesc [Fabregas]. I took a few steps back so as not to be offside, then the control went well for me. I wanted to hit it further in the corner, I did not catch it exactly as I wanted, but I did hit it hard and Stekelenburg did not stop it… and you all know now how it ended up.
“Everything that had happened in that game, and at that World Cup, came together when I scored that goal. It was the work of everyone, and I was the privileged one who was able to score.”
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque recalled that when the ball hit the net he immediately thought about getting organised so that Netherlands could not immediately equalise -- as Turkey famously did against Croatia during Euro 2008.
“It was a moment to have cold blood, there were four minutes left, that is what I had to think about,” Del Bosque said. “I remembered [Slaven] Bilic and the famous Croatia game when he made the mistake of losing concentration.”
Del Bosque admitted he had not really recognised his surroundings on returning to the stadium three years later.
“I did not have a very clear image, I did not even recognise the dressing-room, it was as if I had not been here before, not had that moment,” he said. “It was such an important moment for our country, for the image of Spain, we are very romantic people and we love our football a lot.”
The veteran coach, whose starting side for this game is expected to include 10 of his 2010 Champions, said it was nice to look back, but he was mostly concerned with retaining the trophy next year.
“At this moment I am recalling the three qualification groups we went through, the trophies won, which was no flash in the pan, not down to luck, there has been continuity, we are ready for 2014,” Del Bosque said. “Lots of memories [but] I am not very nostalgic about the past, I want to keep looking forward. We have to face what is coming up next.”