From the start, Del Bosque said he had the perfect blueprint for success. Even so, he changed around a third of the squad for the 2010 World Cup and a further third before the 2012 European Championship.

The art was to introduce new faces while creating the feeling that nothing had changed at all.

Spain went to the World Cup in South Africa following an unbeaten qualifying campaign with their stock high. They promptly lost their opening group game 1-0 to Switzerland.

“It was a big setback and almost unthinkable as we weren’t prepared for it,” says Del Bosque. “We weren’t looking to apportion blame. If anything we were all to blame collectively.”

The emphasis was on not letting any self-doubts creep in, but tension before the next match against Honduras was palpable. Villa would later say it was “the hardest moment of the whole World Cup”.

Qualification was still possible with two victories in the next two games. Defeat would almost certainly have seen Spain eliminated.

Honduras were beaten 2-0, but a draw against Chile in the final group match could still have seen them eliminated.

The silence before the match, both on the coach and in the dressing room, was deafening.

Del Bosque explains the atmosphere: “I had a manager many years ago who would demand absolute silence in the dressing room an hour before a game, with nobody else in the room to guarantee maximum concentration. But this is a group that plays loud energetic music to help get them into the mood.

“On the days of the games against Honduras and Chile, you could hear a fly pass by.”

After Spain beat Chile 2-1, Del Bosque told his players they had four finals ahead of them – the last 16, the quarters, semis and then the actual final.

Portugal were beaten first, then came Paraguay in another of those crucial quarter-finals. Spain had never progressed beyond that stage in a World Cup. And once again the wheels very nearly fell off.

“Everyone thought Paraguay were a team we would defeat easily but nothing could have been further from the truth,” says Capdevila.

The Paraguayans played as if their lives depended on it. Villa commented afterwards that “it seemed like there were 20 of them on the pitch”. For Spain, it was a nerve-racking match; Iker Casillas saved a penalty and then Xabi Alonso missed a twice-taken spot kick.

“It was an insane game, a game when you knew that whoever scored first was going to win,” Villa says.

Del Bosque remembers it well: “At times my legs were literally shaking, which is something that you just can’t control.”

Villa got the decisive strike, a bizarre goal that eventually went in after hitting both posts, almost as if the ball was trying its best to stay out. Villa said later it was “effectively a golden goal, without doubt my most important one”.

Germany came next and, just as in 2008, Spain reserved their best performance of the tournament for the semi-finals, advancing thanks to a winning goal made in Barcelona.

With the teams level at half-time, central defender Carles Puyol mentioned to Xavi on the way to the changing rooms that, if they were to get a corner in the second half, he should float it in around the penalty spot as he knew he could soar and score exactly as he had done previously for his club in a match against Real Madrid.

Puyol headed in the winner in the second half to seal Spain’s third consecutive 1-0 victory in the knockout stages. It set up a meeting with the Netherlands in the final in Johannesburg.

Former prime minister Zapatero recalls his feelings before the match. “I was with my wife and daughter and we were a bundle of nerves,” he says. “We have never seen each other so tense. I have never seen my wife so immersed in a game a football so much in my life.”

Del Bosque says: “We were defending our country. But we were also defending our style of football.”

Capdevila cannot remember taking part in a more physical game. “Maybe they thought we were better than them with the ball, and aggression was the only way they could stop us,” he reflects. “But I think it was excessive. I was very surprised.”

With everyone convinced the match would go to penalties – Arjen Robben had wasted a glorious chance for the Dutch in the second half – Iniesta’s 116th-minute goal rewrote Spanish football history.

“The ball came to my feet and I had two options,” says Fabregas. “Shoot or pass. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I had shot. But I saw Iniesta in a great position and it was the best moment of our careers.”

That 70 metres to the corner flag was the fastest I have ever run,” says Capdevila. “I would even have overtaken Gareth Bale! But it was the most powerful, most beautiful moment of my life. It was unique and is still very emotional to recall.

Villa says: “We thought that this tournament belonged to a Brazilian, an Italian or a German and we never imagined someone wearing the red shirt picking up that trophy. It seemed like something so difficult, virtually impossible.

Capdevila adds: “One of the most emotional experiences I have had on a football pitch was after lifting the cup and doing a lap of honour. I was able to see my poor long-suffering parents crying in the stadium. My mother had paid 1,200 euros to come to see this game.

“You remember a lot of things, like when you were little and they used to take you to and from training every day. You realise the sacrifice they made and to see it rewarded in a stadium full with 80,000 people was almost unthinkable. Watching my parents cry was very emotional.”

Credit: BBC Sport

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