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Thiago Alcántara: ‘The most important thing in football is thinking fast’

The Spain midfielder admits his team are not at the top of their game but says they have ‘an enormous margin for improvement’

Iker Casillas lifted the World Cup coated in olive oil. He did from where Thiago Alcântara was sitting anyway. Spain against the Netherlands in Johannesburg in July 2010 is the biggest TV event in the country’s history and among the 15,605,000 people watching when the ball sat up in front of Andrés Iniesta 8,000km away were the country’s under-19s, together in the dining room at the Federation’s Las Rozas HQ north-west of Madrid, where they were preparing for the European Championship. Thiago remembers it well; he tells it well too. He stops, takes a deep, theatrical breath. Huuuh. “The pause,” he says. “That was the moment.

“Both teams were tired. Holland had their chances: we still had the fear from the Arjen Robben chance Iker had saved. There were nerves. You’re thinking: ‘Bloody hell, this is going to penalties.’ Suddenly, the ball’s there, and Andrés, and the goalkeeper is there, and everyone freezes. And then it turns out the way it turns out …

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