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The national team’s performances have been so impressive that the country is beginning to take Vicente Del Bosque’s side for granted.

By Sid Lowe in Madrid
If no news is good news then it’s tempting to conclude that good news is no news at all. Not when it’s this familiar, anyway, because when it’s this familiar, the extraordinary becomes ordinary.

Spain have already qualified for next summer’s World Cup finals, securing their place in South Africa with an eighth successive victory. A 3-0 win against Estonia in Merida followed a 5-0 hammering of Belgium in La Coruna and offered yet another demonstration of the seleccion’s talents. But Spain have a problem: they are just too good. They’ve become boringly brilliant.

During the fortnight of the last international break, the national team only made the front cover of the country’s best-selling newspaper, Marca, twice – three times if you include the news that coach Vicente Del Bosque was set to be offered a new contract by the Spanish Football Federation. They made the same number of appearances on the cover of the other national sports daily, AS.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez promising to turn the Santiago Bernabeu into a footballing version of the Guggenheim Museum; Perez promising to build a Real Madrid theme park; Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi maybe missing out on South Africa; Atletico Madrid’s early-season crisis; Jorge Valdano hinting that Franck Ribery might turn up at Madrid one day; Diego Maradona in meltdown; Ruben De la Red saying he doesn’t know when he will be able to play again; Raul being likened to an 18-year-old…all of these were deemed more important than news of the European champions.

Inside, the papers were scrabbling around for something to fill their pages. One “story” showed how Madrid were on course to finish the season with a record tally of goals by racking up 110 – something that, they helpfully pointed out, “Barcelona didn’t manage”. For those who wondered how they worked that out just one game into the season, they had factored in Madrid’s pre-season results too – a method that would see Villarreal, 27-0 winners in one particular summer preparation game, on course for 400 goals or so!

Spain were not completely ignored, of course. And those covers that were dedicated to Del Bosque’s side expressed their delight, with Marca describing them as a “machine” and AS simply dubbing them “the best” after the Belgium game.

“Now go and win the World Cup,” Marca ordered once qualification was in the bag with victory over Estonia. “Let’s go get South Africa’s gold,” implored AS. But it certainly was striking that in a week of club inactivity, the country’s cruise to the finals didn’t lead the agenda.

In a curious sort of way, it was also the biggest compliment you could pay the national side, the greatest of eulogies you could hand to Del Bosque and his players. Maybe ’twas always thus. There was, after all, none of the scandal that the media loves, no meat, no bones to pick over. No confrontations or controversy, no shock results. Just very, very good ones. Again. There was just an excellent football team.

Part two tomorrow.

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