Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio curls over a lovely freekick towards the back post. Veteran defender Sergei Ignashevich tries to rugby tackle Ramos to the ground – unfortunately, the ball bounces off the back of his heel and into the net from close range! Fernando Hierro’s men have the lead, and Sergio Ramos promptly wheels off in celebration!
The lead was shortlived and ultimately didn’t yield much. Artem Dzyuba’s equalizer from the spot and a spirited performance from the hosts ensured matters would be decided on the frightening altar of Penalties.
Before the 2018 World Cup, Spain had faced the hosts eight times in World Cups or European Championships and never won.
Denis Cheryshev scores. Iago Aspas takes a six-yard run-up, fires straight down the middle ... and Igor Akinfeev saves with his feet! The hosts win 4-3, sparking wild celebrations at the Luzhniki and across Russia. Stanislav Cherchesov’s men just booked a quarter-final spot at the expense of 2010 World Champions Spain.
This was another paragraph in "La Roja’s diary of a free fall from the summit" of the World’s game. Yet, on the flipside of things, Didier Deschamps was rolling back the glory days with his blue army, and no, it wasn’t unprecedented.
Two years after European championships heartbreak on home soil, Les Bleus touched down in Russia as tournament favourites alongside Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and Spain, but while Europe and South America’s finest caved under expectations, the French danced their way to the top again, worthy winners of a fantastic tournament – just like two decades ago.
There’s probably nothing new under the sun, but for Equipe de France, the return to the summit of the World’s game was the morning after a familiar darkness now inextricably attached to the triumphant ones.
In 2002, the French Football National team, arriving in Korea/Japan as defending champions on three fronts –World Cup, European Championships, Confederations Cup – could not have envisioned a better group draw – Denmark, Senegal, and Uruguay.
Senegal, under the stewardship of the weird and charismatic Bruno Metsu, carried their impressive AFCON form onto Asian soil, but on paper, no one expected the West Africans to progress further than the defending champions.
The immeasurable genius of Zinedine Zidane (although absent on matchday one), the prospect of Youri Djorkaeff, Sylvain Wiltord, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet weaving their magic on Senegal’s defensive quartet of Omar Daf, Lamine Diatta, Aliou Cisse, and Ferdinand Coly, didn’t leave much to the imagination.
What was there to imagine? Even with two eyes closed, conjuring mental images of a free-scoring rout for Roger Lemerre's talent-packed team would have been effortless for a hungry kid on the streets of Sedhiou.
Right? Bouba Diop scored, France lost and Senegal finished second behind group winners Denmark.
The Teranga Lions would take it two steps further, defeating Sweden in the next round via Henri Camara's golden goal, and then into the quarter-finals where tournament’s dark horses Turkey proved insurmountable. But by then, France the defending Champions were long gone and it was the defeat to Senegal that helped set the tone for a disappointing title defence in Asia.
Two years later, Portugal hosted the European championships. The French, under the guidance of dearly beloved Jacques Santin, topped their group following the last gasp victory vs England, a 2-2 stalemate vs Croatia, and a comprehensive win over the Swiss; Thanks to the mesmerizing genius of the immortal Zidane, complemented by the predatory instincts of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet.
In the quarter-finals, at the Estadio Jose Alvalade, in one of the defining moments of Euro 2004, the French surrendered their crown on the altar of Greece’s tactical organization; Angelos Charisteas scoring the solitary goal of the game to send the defending Champions packing.
Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makélélé, Lilian Thuram announced their retirements from the international stage, and although the veteran trio would return to the big stage in 2006, Zizou wasn’t mistaken when he said: “Something was broken after the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004 was the last straw.”
Senegal’s World Cup run in 2002, and Greece’s unlikely journey to continental triumph in Portugal remain some of the most inspiring football stories of the early 2000s, but France’s failure to defend their hallowed double set the precedence for what followed in the near future.
En route the 2006 World Cup grand finale in Berlin, Iberian neighbours Spain and Portugal had their hopes dashed by tournament finalists France, but while the Portuguese would have to wait ten years for its first trophy; Spain promptly emerged from the dark to dominate the world’s game in remarkable fashion –Three successive triumphs on the big stage.
The delightfulness of Euro 2008 was capped by the technically excellent Spain triumphing in a tournament where they possessed the depth of talent to outdo the rest. Two years later in South Africa, and four years later in Ukraine, Mother Nature rolled the same dice still.
La Furia Roja remained head and shoulders above the rest. Yet, memories of France’s collapse after a glorious double remained, and it was only a matter of time before the exceptionally skilled Spaniards got entangled in the same web.
The disappointment of Brazil 2014, France 2016, and Russia 2018 is to Spain, what Korea/Japan 2002, Portugal 2004, Austria-Switzerland 2008, South Africa 2010, was to France, and while Didier Deschamps has restored sanity and pride to Les Bleus, Spain’s future and fate under the guidance of Luis Enrique remains a work in progress –quite frankly, a matter of uncertainty.
It took France 20 years to climb their way back, but Brazil, Italy, Spain and Germany have failed to make a World Cup final appearance since winning it in 2002/2006/2010/2014, and while Luis Enrique possesses the psychological composition and requisite tools to get Spain back on track; logic suggests we’ve not seen the last of the hallowed double syndrome.Published 10 Sep 2018, 04:10 IST