Thanks, Spain. Thank you again. It was a privilege. Amid the 2,913 days from June 27, 2006 to Wednesday, it was a privilege. It was a privilege in June 2008, in June and July 2010, in June and July 2012. It was a privilege being an earthling and watching you play futbol. It has ended, but everything does.
You had style, flair, beauty, élan, panache and an unusual supply of great hair. You lived up to the color red. You personified one of the most appealing things in all of sports: collaboration. You made me want to just get up and go live in Madrid or Barcelona -- yeah, I like both of them, sorry -- as if I hadn't wanted so already. Through Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, you flattered our planet. You won the two most difficult events in the world's biggest game three times in a row, and you did so pretty much using a velvet hammer.
It's hard to believe we used to think of you as yellow more than red, as unfulfilled talent more than anything, but let's go back to El Pais, that Spanish bastion of newspaper sobriety, on Wednesday, June 28, 2006. It referred to you as "the Spain of always, the same which always fails in the top tournaments, a victim of its own misfortune and incapable of beating teams of higher standard." Nobody could have disagreed.
Once again, Spain had gone home in a World Cup while the handful of other Big Soccer countries stuck around to decide it. As of then in World Cup history, Spain had finished fourth once and reached a genuine semifinal nada. A round-of-16 exit from Germany in 2006 prompted understandable headlines such as "Back Home, As Always," and "Broken Dreams," and "Failure."
You, though, became something else altogether. You have been so masterful for so long that that Tuesday night seems an eon ago. David Villa from Langreo was 24 years old; now he's employed with New York City FC. Franck Ribery from Boulogne-sur-Mer in France was 23; now he's a Bayern Munich old gent. The great Patrick Vieira from Senegal and Dreux was 29 -- he's managing in the Manchester City organization -- and the great Zinedine Zidane from Marseille, 33 -- he's helping manage at Real Madrid.
All four of those young men scored that night -- Villa first, on a penalty, the French thrice thereafter. Zidane closed it out with a memorable solo in stoppage. France won 3-1 to stir thoughts of its title of 1998 -- it would reach the 2006 final -- and Spain lost 3-1 for its first international loss since Euro 2004, but its first turn in the very-bright lights since the same. It would go home and hope, a 22-year-old Fernando Torres describing "a good taste in our mouths." He sounded half-delusional. Well, they had dominated Group H of Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
From then to now brought a whole lot of sublime and, certainly, a whole lot of possession. You possessed, the world chased, you possessed, the world chased, you possessed, the world finally caught up. Even while the style waned and frayed some through the three big titles, it did spend a good amount of time resembling art. When it was gorgeous, man, was it gorgeous. For the almost-eight years since September 2006 when Euro 2008 qualifying got going until Wednesday in Rio, you throne-sat. In a world full of citizens demanding victory, that's a run long enough to bewilder.
In Euro 2008, you started shedding your past, with the five wins and the one win on penalties and the 3-0 symphony over Russia in the semifinal and the 1-0 loveliness over Germany in the final. By the 2010 World Cup, you had a demonstrably new identity, with enough stomach to lose the opener (against Switzerland), entertain all the goblins who revisited from the 20th century, then shoo them with six closing wins, the last four all 1-0, the final a victorious battle against cynicism. By Euro 2012, people accused you of dullness -- true only relatively -- but you weathered Portugal in the semifinal penalties and then flourished again in a picturesque 4-0 decimation of Italy.
By then, you had gone on long enough that plenty of people got sick of tiki-taka or decried tiki-taka or just always loathed tiki-taka, even as some of us still saw you and heard just enough music. Whatever. We're all wired differently.
Finally, there came a day (a Friday) when the Netherlands looked too shrewd, and a day (a Wednesday) when Chile looked too stunning, two days when Spain looked too creaky. One goal for, seven against. It's a World Cup pratfall unprecedented for a champion, even considering Italy's group-stage flop at World Cup 2010. It's jarring because it alters the reality, the same way Euro 2008 began to alter the reality.
It's also OK. You had your long turn as the world's team. You carried that title with pizzazz. You added something to life.