This month we asked our writers to revisit their most indelible memories of 2012.
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Please believe me, Spain. I did not glom onto you just because you win and win and win. I did not look up this past July 1 and hurriedly decide to savor the first team ever to win three straight colossal international cups.
I do not appreciate you just because you are the team of our lifetimes on Planet Earth. I do not nod merely because your dazzling national team has played 19 matches in three events of searing pressure before billions of eyeballs. Nor is it because in Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, you have won an astounding 17 matches with one draw and one loss, the latter of which should have wrought parades in Switzerland before six subsequent wins left that World Cup opener moot.
I do not swoon because of your brain-rattling qualifying record which, since October 7, 2006, Northern Ireland and David Healy -- David Healy! -- boasts 28 wins with two draws and nada defeats. That includes a spotless 10 wins toward 2010 and a spotless eight more toward 2012. Could you slip up sometime?
No, please believe me, because, as the Sunday night of July 1 in Kiev became the lasting on-field sports night of 2012, and as your 4-0 decimation of hopeful Italy cemented you both as Euro 2012 champion and a history-making franchise, I felt glad mostly for two reasons, one hackneyed and one personal.
As much of humanity has acknowledged, you have treated us to an ideal brand of soccer. Often, you have made us gasp with your flair, your passing, your hoarded possession, your camaraderie and your capacity to seem both breathtaking and unhurried. Sometimes and somehow you have made me feel better. The beauty of your game has become its own entity. Some people tire of hearing about the aesthetic, and that seems understandable as so many of us do go on about it, while some people condemn your style as insufficiently pugnacious, and these people are...
I'm looking for the word; these people are...
Oh, I know: wrong.
As a bonus, the beauty ends up yielding the stage when spoiled fanatics transform into finicky aesthetes and begin complaining that certain wins are not stylish enough, a phenomenon seen in Brazil and most recently through your run-up to that final with Italy. Some felt you looked duller in victory, and out flew the accusations of pragmatism and the yearnings for bygone creativity and even the envy of the alluring 21st-century Germans... until the 4-0 Mozart-ing of the Italians who had thrashed the Germans. What fun, all told.
Beyond all of that, though, I have come to love your country with a viewpoint you yourselves might dub Pollyanna. I love Madrid and Barcelona, even though I know it's against the law to love both. I love 3 a.m. in Chueca in Madrid and 3 p.m. on the sea in Barcelona, as well as most every hour in each city. The Opening Ceremony at Barcelona 1992 with all its delirious funkiness ranks among the best nights of my life, and the moment the archer Antonio Rebollo fired that arrow to light the torch remains No. 1 all-time, sports-wise.
I never feel more comfortable anywhere else than when I'm within your borders. I love your way, your verve, your sense of balance about life, your nocturnal bent, your capacity to amble out of one dance club at 6 a.m. and proceed to another. I love your willingness to hold a festival where people throw tomatoes, as well as your finely kept trains, your sense of tradition combined with your status as the first country with a dominant religion to legalize same-sex marriage. I appreciate your capacity to emerge from a terrible phase of history, and I hate the details from Spanish friends about your recent years in recession.
I should probably note here that I do comprehend you have flaws.
So, yes, I know your peerless rise has overwritten your former reputation for fizzling. I know that, until 2010, you were the biggest football-mad nation without so much as a berth in even one World Cup final. I cringed at the preposterous 2002 World Cup loss to South Korea and the 3-1, round-of-16 loss to France in 2006 that cemented you as peerless underachievers. I figure it wasn't easy forgetting that legacy when two of your 17 highest-profile wins came through dreaded penalties.
But that's not why I saw redemption when Carles Puyol's mighty header at 73 minutes felled Germany in the 2010 semifinals, or Andres Iniesta's goal at 116 bested the Netherlands in your first World Cup final, or when your four 1-0 wins to close that run out revealed as much spine as pizzazz. And that's not why on this past July 1, even as a person who's not Spanish and often envious of those who are, I liked the David Silva header on 14 minutes, the Jordi Alba charge-and-finish on 41, Fernando Torres on 84 or Juan Mata from Torres on 88.
I feel this foolish urge to tell you it wasn't because you won, even though it's amazing how much you have. It's because while winning, you often represent the best parts of life.