Saluting Spain’s David Villa
David Villa’s number was up. Over on the touchline, the board showed a seven. Villa glanced across at it, surprised and saddened, then walked slowly toward the edge of the pitch with his head down, embraced Juan Mata, sat on the bench and began to cry. So, this is the end.
In the buildup to Spain’s final game, the focus had been on how it brought a cycle to a close. The end was symbolised above all in the absence of Xavi Hernandez. But Xavi simply sat there in silence and at the full-time whistle headed straight down the tunnel. Afterward, he did not speak. Instead, the lasting image from Spain’s World Cup, the image that brought this generation to a close, ended up being Villa. His goal and his tears. The country’s greatest striker bid farewell.
Villa left the way he came in: scoring. When he scored with a clever backheel, he kissed his shirt four times, and after he was taken off, the tears flowed on the bench. His goal Monday was his 59th in 97 games for Spain, more than anyone else, and his ninth in 11 World Cup games — another record. This was the 37th stadium he had scored in, in the same city where Spain had scored their first World Cup goal 64 years earlier.
"He should be very proud," Mata said. "He has marked a generation, and there will not be another player like him." Top scorer at Euro 2008 and top scorer in South Africa in 2010, Villa scored his goals across 43 different matches: His contribution was constant, not coincidental; his statistics not exaggerated by occasional gluts against weak opposition.