Xavi, Iniesta relinquish the art form of space invaders

Xavi, Iniesta relinquish the art form of space invaders

Tonight I can write the saddest lines - Pablo Neruda

For a man who turned football into a poem - of rhythm, balance, technique, imagery - here he was, at his last stanza. On the field, Spain played. On the bench, he sat. Symbolically bereft of every idea.

In an interview to Sid Lowe - who brilliantly interprets Spanish football - Xavi once said of his art form: "That's what I do: Look for spaces. All day. I'm always looking. All day, all day. Here? No. There? No. People who haven't played don't always realise how hard that is. Space, space, space."

Yet now, his nation, this game, this Cup had no space for him. Of course, it was the end of Spain.

Sport, like life, is refreshed by beginnings, but for that there must be endings.

There is a wonder to the assembling of the jigsaw puzzle of a champion - idea, nerve, practice - yet a different beauty as it disassembles, as those parts corrode and he struggles to hold them together. In sport, before you go bad, you go slow.

Yet every fading athlete tries. So did Spain. They tried pride, they tried Diego Costa again - who fits in this team like a bouncer in a ballet troupe - they tried the new, Koke, and the old, Torres.

Nothing worked. Not the parts, not the whole. In winning two European titles and a World Cup, they lost one match, now already two. In those 19 matches, they let in a total of six goals. Now in two matches it was seven.

Winning, as Iniesta once told Lowe, takes suffering and perhaps they'd had enough. The elegance of their precision always obscured the sweat of their endeavour.

Now a swarming Chile - once colonised by Spain - provided both a lesson in football and in history.

Football without the duet of Xavi, 34, and Iniesta (30, and still a force) will be less musical. In an infantile football world, they were grown-ups. In a game of cheap gamesmanship, they stood above. In a sport of loud egos, they exemplified dignity.

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