I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen the goal that won us the World Cup. There are days when I come across it by surprise, just watching television; but I admit that on occasions I’ve also played it back on video to savor a moment that made me supremely happy, and at the same time has become a fixture of sports programs dedicated to the World Cup. Perhaps it’s become a kind of refuge, or maybe a routine I need to be able to face the challenges life can present, or maybe it’s just a way to feel good about things.
Scoring that goal made me feel very happy. It was a different sensation to anything I have ever experienced: unique, so much so that I don’t really need to see it to relive the moment – it’s engraved in my memory. I have always said the goal against the Netherlands is not the one you see on television. I can replay it with my eyes closed, without seeing the images on the screen, because it is something you never forget. I knew that we were going to win the final, and I was convinced as soon as I touched the ball that I was going to score. The feelings you experience on the field are unrepeatable. That goal could only be scored once.
What I mean is that it is very different watching it from scoring it. I always watch the matches I have played, so as to improve my game, but the World Cup is something else. For me, the tournament overall was very special, and I have very happy memories of the event. Everybody was very kind to us, and we all got on well. I was really impressed by our hosts’ keenness to show us their country and to get the most out of the event and to share South Africa’s joy. For me it was a wonderful experience and I had the time of my life.
On very few other occasions have I been so sure that we were going to win a game”
On the last day, in Potschefstroom, where we were staying, I was deeply moved when our hosts bade us farewell with tears in their eyes. We boarded the bus convinced that we could be the champions. On very few other occasions have I been so sure that we were going to win a game. I had been feeling very comfortable since the third game we played, against Chile. That day I was absolutely sure that things had changed for me. I felt important, very sure of myself: I knew that my performance had improved, and scored one of the two goals that won us the game.
That goal made me stronger. I was stressed out when I arrived at the World Cup. It had been a tough season. I had suffered an injury in a friendly against the Netherlands and also had problems in the opening game against Switzerland. I was very lucky to have two great physios: Emili at Barcelona and Raúl in the national squad, because they not only helped me get better but to find my best form without me even realizing it. That happened on the night of the second game, against Honduras. Suddenly I felt better, there was no pain, physical or otherwise, and all I wanted to do was win the match.
Perhaps the team underwent the same experience. We knew how to suffer, both in victory and defeat, so that we could later relax knowing we had given our all. We were all on the same wavelength and we gradually became aware of our potential, which was confirmed when we beat Germany in the semifinal. None of the games were easy, but we also knew they were winnable. We were unstoppable right up to the last minute of the final when we beat the Netherlands. Since then I have been happy, I have felt loved and respected, and now I’m ready to embark on the new challenge that faces us in Brazil.
This will be a unique opportunity to continue making history. This season hasn’t been easy either, but my goal is to start the tournament feeling the best I can. I believe in our side, in everybody in the team, people who know how to get things done properly and give their all in the process, and knowing that things will be even more difficult this time round because we will not only be competing against our rivals, but also face renewed demands on ourselves. But we are determined to do our best. Soccer more than ever is played on a level field: if you are not perfect, forget about winning, because every team in the whole world is ready.
This isn’t about remembering the past for its own sake, but as a way of motivating us to move forward. This isn’t about reliving past glories, but about using our successes as a motor to drive us on in Brazil. Soccer matches aren’t won by dwelling on former successes, but by conviction. It’s down to us, the players, to show that we can win the World Cup for a second time.