the Amsterdam Tavern
, started rattling off the final results of the previous winners of the EuroCup in the World Cup. Like some soccer Rain Man he went all the way back to 1968, detailing how every champion of the European tournament went on to fail miserably two years later on the global stage.
Of course the Spain fans were outwardly unfazed. This year's squad is considered a co-favorite to take home the title, along with Brazil. In addition to the 2008 EuroCup, they won all ten of their qualifying matches and 45 of their previous 46 overall, losing only to the United States last year in the Confederations Cup. The team boasts an incredible collection of skilled players, to the point that most of their reserves would be in the starting line-ups of other countries.
Spend any amount of time in Spain and you'll quickly learn that the country takes soccer seriously. The nation's news media has at least a half-dozen publications devoted exclusively to fútbol and impromptu drunken victory parades in the street follow every important match. And yet the biggest celebration has never come. Despite their elegant style of play and almost unparalleled talent, Spain has never won the World Cup.
And so beneath their confident veneer, every Spain fan in attendance was secretly a little worried about the country's opening match against Switzerland.
The Amsterdam doesn't serve food so breakfast was just a buffet of strong black coffee and doughnuts from the shop across the street. The bar is dedicated to soccer -- the walls are covered with scarves and signed memorabilia -- and even at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday afternoon there was a healthy crowd about 30 people inside swilling beer and cocktails.
A dozen or so Spain fans congregated on picnic tables in front of a flat screen TV on the back patio. Some sipped Estrella Galicia
beer, virtually all sucked down cigarettes (no smoking is allowed inside the Amsterdam) like the country was about to be re-conquered by the Moors.
One Madrid native in attendance proudly proclaimed his support of the club team Athletico Madrid "hasta muerte," until death, and kept repeating after errors by stars from rivals Real Madrid (of which there are several on the Spanish national team) "That's what you get for having Real Madrid players."
Unfortunately, the mistakes weren't limited to just the Galácticos
on the field.
Spain kept creating scoring opportunities with their crisp, fluid passes but could never find the back of the net against an entrenched Swiss defense. And so, as shots rattled off the cross bar and off the hands of Switzerland's keeper, a hazy nicotine cloud accumulated under the tent from all the chain-smoking.
In the 52nd minute, Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes
broke free on a counter-attack, lept over the diving Spanish goalkeeper, knocked over a defender and scored what the announcers later called "a scrappy, ugly goal."
At the Amsterdam, heads were hung and many Marlboros were ignited.
Spain kept coming close but could never convert in the final minutes. The final buzzer sounded and the stat popped up on the screen that no team has ever lost its opening match and gone on to win the World Cup. Taking a deep drag, the Atletico Madrid die hard tried his best to rationalize.
"This can be good for Spain," he said. "We're adding some emotion to the World Cup. We can still come back and win."
It wasn't a good sign for the Spanish contingent when Rob, the co-owner of