This was as much about handshakes and landmarks as it was football. Spain beat Uruguay 3-1 thanks to two goals by Pedro and one from Cesc Fabregas but the match will remembered more for milestones than matters on the pitch.
Carles Puyol won his 100th cap for La Furia Roja, the first defender to do so in Spanish football history. Elsewhere another record was broken: nine Barcelona players took part in the friendly between European and South American champions in Qatar, the most players from one club to ever represent Spain in a single match.
Throw in debuts for Isco, Mario Suarez and Cesar Azpilicueta and the game felt more about accolades than goalmouth action.
In a jovial atmosphere that defined the word ‘friendly’ it took just 14 minutes for the first Mexican wave in the Khalifa Stadium in Doha and only two further minutes for the first Uruguayan flap.
Fernando Muslera had little to do early on but when Cesc Fabregas, playing in his now customary false nine role in Spain’s 4-3-3, hit a speculative shot from around 25 yards out, Muslera palmed what should have been a routine save into his own net. A disaster.
Spain mastered possession in the opening 15 minutes without any real penetration. It needed Muslera’s fumble to provide them cutting edge. He punched the floor in self-disgust.
Buoyed by the keeper’s poor handling, Fabregas tried again from range in 25th minute, this time at an angle, but Muslera held well.
Uruguay started in a 4-4-2 with a double pivot in midfield and two strikers. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani were like a hapless crime-fighting duo in the first half hour; hurrying and chasing leads without much joy against the rugged Sergio Ramos and Carles Puyol, their arch-enemies for the night.
Just before the half hour mark Puyol stabbed the ball in at the other end. Before the 34-year-old could raise his arm to celebrate however there was disappointment as the flag went up. Puyol was clearly onside.
The national team nickname La Furia Roja suits Puyol. ‘Red fury’ seems to sum up accurately the man’s career, charging almost maniacally around football fields with a warrior-like, controlled aggression that has made him one of the finest defenders of his generation.
“He is an example on and off the pitch” said his coach Vicente del Bosque. At half time Puyol was presented a special honour by his Qatari hosts.
Before that, on the half hour mark, it was Uruguay who struck back and Suarez was at the heart of the action.
Martin Caceres started in very lively fashion down Uruguay’s left hand side. Here he played a superb ball through that sliced Spain open. Suarez let it slip cunningly through to Cristian Rodriguez, deceiving Spain’s back four and allowing the Atletico Madrid man in. The man nicknamed ‘the onion’ slotted home coolly. Game on.
Uruguay broke minutes later and carved out another decent opening in the area through Suarez, but Cavani couldn’t quite muster a shot.
1-1 at half time was more or less fair, Spain paying for not attacking with any great intensity in the first half despite their usual, effortless control of possession.
Uruguay had more intensity and speed about their game going forward, but only intermittently.
Uruguay sat deeper and deeper early in the second half and paid for it in the 51st minute. Diego Godin got caught in possession and Gerard Pique, on as a substitute, laid it off to his Barcelona teammate Pedro who paused momentarily before firing home a powerful low shot past Muslera.
It was a moment of quality – the quick, quick to much of Spain’s earlier slow slow.
Cavani, quiet in Qatar, did his best to get Uruguay back into it with a rasping effort minutes later, but Victor Valdes saved with style.
Even in Qatar Andres Iniesta is worth a standing ovation. On the hour mark another Barcelona legend left the field, this time to be replaced by a man who could well end up being Iniesta’s heir apparent.
Isco has worked wonders for Malaga this season and he came on to make his debut at international level, occupying a position on the left hand side of Spain’s attack.
With just over 15 minutes remaining it was becoming the FC Barcelona show as Spain made it 3-1. Fabregas whipped in a superb pass to the far post and there, again, was Pedro to grab his second of the night and his ninth in his last six games for Spain – a remarkable achievement.
A substitution spree did little to help the flow of the game thereafter. Late on, Alvaro Negredo let one fly inoffensively over from nearly 35 yards out and David Villa went close with a blistering effort well kept out by Muslera. But by then the damage was done.
In the ‘battle of the champions’ – as local media put it – it ended Europe 3-1 South America.