World Cup 2018: Why Spain will win the World Cup

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REUTERS/Susana Vera

Four years ago, when Xabi Alonso stepped up to convert a 27th-minute penalty for Spain in their World Cup opener against the Netherlands, there was a sense of inevitability. The reigning champions were unbeaten in their qualifying campaign and had the spine of that all-conquering side at their disposal. 

But then everything changed. The Netherlands scored five goals in 36 minutes and Spain’s shield of invincibility, first breached by Brazil in the Confederations Cup final the summer before (a defeat written off as a blip), now lie in tatters. 

Vicente del Bosque, who had been coaching the team on autopilot, was forced to take the controls and did not understand what to do. He fumbled through the subsequent 2-0 defeat to Chile and, by the time he steadied the trajectory with a meaningless win against Australia, it was too late. Spain went crashing out.