Iker Casillas is a one club man. He first signed for Real Madrid Juniors at the age of ten, and has been at the Bernebau ever since. He has played almost three hundred and fifty matches for Real and, at the age of twenty-eight, has also made ninety-three matches for Spain as well. Considering that Real can get crowds of anything up to 10,000 for their training sessions, there was one question that drifted through my mind this evening: is the smallest football crowd that Iker Casillas has ever seen? Did he believe that such an empty stadium was possible when a match was being played? Quite possibly not. He certainly had a slightly surprised look on his face as he swapped pennants with the New Zealand captain before the match.
This match was, of course, a massacre, and its’s difficult to to have some sympathy for the hapless New Zealanders. One wonders what the psychological torment that they must go through is like. One minute, they’re the lords of all that they survey. Now that Australia have departed for the more challenging waters of the AFC, they be surely now be the perpetual champions of their confederation. They have already sewn up the OFC place in the play-off against the fifth best team in Asia for a place at the 2010 World Cup Finals. They win these matches comparatively comfortably, lift the trophy and have a few glasses of champagne. The next morning comes the hangover: they’re going to have to travel to South Africa and play Spain. They might have a chance against Iraq and South Africa, but Spain?
There is worse news to follow for them. The Spanish coach Vincente Del Bosque is taking this tournament seriously. The World Cup finals are next year and this is an excellent chance for his squad to acclimatise for the finals. He’s taking a full strength team. Spain are unbeaten in thirty-two matches, and within twenty minutes this game is all but over as a contest. Fernando Torres is running the show and scores a hat-trick in eleven minutes to take a remarkable hat-trick. A curler from twenty yards gives them the lead, a tap in from five yards out makes it two after fourteen minutes and an almost unmarked header makes it three. Fabregas makes it four-nil from close range after twenty-four minutes, and it’s only at this point that Spain take their feet off the pedal. There are chinks of encouragement from New Zealand, who fire a couple of shots in from distance and potential opponents may take heart from the amount of space that Spain give New Zealand in and around their own penalty area. Better opponents would have exploited this generosity.
Villa makes it five-nil after a horrendous mistake from Boyen three minutes into the second half, who goes to clear a low cross into the stand but only kicks thin air instead. Spain continue to pass the ball around comfortably and smoothly but, with the points already won Spain take their collective foot off the pedal and stroke the ball about as comfortably as one would expect the European champions to. With New Zealand offering no serious opposition, they can afford to prepare themselves for their next match. It is an indication of how much better Spain are than the rest of this group that New Zealand aren’t necessarily out of this yet. They could yet pick up results against Iraq and South Africa, no matter how unlikely that may seem on the back of tonight’s performance. Such is the gulf between the best and the rest these days.