PARIS — The answer to what has happened to Spain lies with Xavi Hernandez. And not just his absence from the national team, for that would be awfully simplistic.
Xavi said in more than one interview that “because [Spain] tend to be a small, slight team, we have to be at our absolute utmost, in form, fit and passing well, in order to compete against a series of teams who are bigger, faster and stronger than us.”
While Spain ruled, they did so not simply because they were technically exquisite, nor even just because they had a clutch of historically good and inspirational footballers — think Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Iker Casillas — but also because they spent the vast majority of the period between 2007-13 training, preparing, thinking and then performing at their absolute maximum.
To paraphrase the now internationally-retired Xavi, the advantage of being better at football and better on the ball than most of their rivals wasn’t enough on its own.