Spain 2010 is part of 90min's 20 Greatest Teams of the Decade series.

The 2010 was a World Cup of firsts. South Africa became the first country on the continent to host the tournament, while Spain became the first European nation to lift the famous trophy outside of Europe and the first first-time winner since 1998.

2010 was the year in which Vicente del Bosque's side finally came good on the biggest footballing stage of all and in doing so, they set news standards for success at every level of the game, with the greatest midfield football has ever seen.

Carles Puyol,Xavi Hernandez,David Villa,Jesus Navas,Fernando Llorente,Sergio Ramos,Juan Manuel Mata,Fernando Torres,Andres Iniesta,Raul Albiol

Prior to the finals, question marks were raised over whether La Roja had the steel necessary to lift the World Cup, even despite their possession-based style winning acclaim and silverware just two years prior under Luis Aragones at Euro 2008.

Heading into the tournament, having lost just two of their previous 54 matches stretching back to 2006, seeing whether Spain could compete with the likes of Brazil and Argentina was to be the ultimate challenge. 

Pitted in a group with Chile, Switzerland and Honduras, few expected the reigning European champions to do anything other than breeze through as group winners. And finish as group winners they did, but not without overcoming an almighty scare.

Taking on the Swiss in Durban, Del Bosque lined his side up largely the same as to how Luis Aragones did in Spain's 1-0 final win over Germany at the European Championships, with only David Villa, Gerard Pique, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets coming into the side. 

Busquets was the natural defensive midfielder in the team, replacing Brazilian-born Marcos Senna, while Xabi Alonso would join in attacks and offensive pressing.


Out wide in midfield was Andres Iniesta, a player who, not in any shape or form, fit the mould of 'winger'. That's simply because he wasn't, and he wasn't supposed to be. He was everywhere.

This was a side built to play Tiki-Taka football. Short passing and movement throughout the final third, working the ball through various avenues and, of course, maintaining possession at all times.

It worked in Vienna two years ago. It was going to work again.

Except, it didn't. At first.

Boasting 67% of the ball and having no fewer than 22 shots at goal (ten on target), Spain found no way past the Swiss rearguard, ultimately coming undone to Gelson Fernandes' scrappy breakaway goal. Spain - who had a history of coming undone at major tournaments - were felled and their World Cup dream was hanging by a thread after just one game.

Amends were made in the following game, as a weak Honduras side were beaten 2-0 courtesy of a Villa brace. Del Bosque changed his approach for this occasion, putting two players up top, as he began to realise the error of his ways.

For all Spain's intricate approach play, the lack of a clinical finisher would severely stunt their hopes of success, and by thrusting Fernando Torres into the side it allowed for more presence in attack, while Villa was willing to drift out wide.

This masterstroke proved to be pivotal for the rest of their group clashes, as they also saw of Chile in their third clash to pip the South American's to top spot on goal difference.

That coughed up a round of 16 clash with Portugal, where the two-man attack continued. Barring a couple of early missed chances, it was a game in which Spain largely remained in control. Keeping the ball with annoyingly efficient frequency, they starved the opposition in the second period, with Villa firing home in the 63rd minute to ensure progression.

When Tiki-Taka is mentioned, the Spain sides of Del Bosque and Aragones immediately get credited for the manner with which they capitalised on a plethora of technically gifted midfielders, many of which are some of the finest seen this generation.

Iniesta and Xavi were masters of their craft for countless seasons, never dropping their performance levels and repeatedly demonstrating the magic you can do with simply passing a ball. But what is unfairly overlooked with the Spain sides of this era are the defenders. A central defensive partnership of Carles Puyol and Pique was solid throughout the tournament, offering mere scraps for strikers to feed and bossing any physical or aerial battle that came their way.

​​Sergio Ramos earned his stripes as a right back, providing the width needed for Iniesta to cut inside, while the unheralded Villarreal left back Joan Capdevila flew under the radar despite consistently providing width down the flank with undetected guile.

But it was none of them who have the most decisive say in their quarter-final clash with Paraguay, oh no. It was Iker Casillas who denied Óscar Cardozo from the penalty spot in the second half to hand Spain a desperately needed lifeline in a game they struggled to impose their style on.

Spain's goalkeeper Iker Casillas (2nd R)

Xabi Alonso would also be denied from the spot - after a re-take - with Villa once again showing his clinical edge to fire in a late winner.

Staring down at the face of defeat, La Roja discovered a new side of themselves that would put them in great stead for the semi-finals: resilience. No other trait would come in so handy for their next game - Germany, back in Durban.

Against a side Del Bosque claimed were 'the best in the world' at the time, Spain were controlling and determined, working tirelessly to unpick the defensive lock in front of them and spurning chances in either half to ensure the victory would come more comfortably than it did.

Puyol's thumping header proved the difference, but it was the majesty of the midfield who broke down the Germans' resilience throughout the match. World Cup victory was within their sights.

Teammates celebrate with Spain's defende

Spain's final opponents were the Netherlands, who had also shone at Euro 2008 before a shock exit to Russia. They enjoyed keeping hold of the ball themselves and had some of the world's preeminent creators in Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, but they were not Spain. 

La Roja dominated possession and created a good number of chances on 11 July in Soccer City Johannesburg, but while Tiki-Taka would ultimately reign supreme, the final was a disappointment, remembered better for Nigel de Jong's brutish high tackle on Alonso and several other fouls rather than moments of excitement. 

Nevertheless, the Iniesta and Xavi partnership was the driving force behind Spain's eventual victory. These were two players born to play football, in a side moulded to win matches by starving the opposition of oxygen.

This style of football had its origins in 2008, but it came of age and put its stamp on the world in South Africa. Fittingly, it was Iniesta's goal which handed Spain their first taste of success on the world's biggest stage. The greatest goal in the nation's history.

Tiki-Taka reached its peak at the turn of the decade. No Spanish side since has achieved the success of Del Bosque's squad, while the next generation is trying to find its own voice in a new world where slow, precision buildup has been replaced by a preference for a more relentless high press. 

Spain's Golden Generation were the world's champions and we may never see another side quite like them.

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