Everyone was put in a tough position prior to this match.
With tiny Tahiti’s qualification for the Confederations Cup and drawn in the same group as the #1-ranked team in the world, it was an awkward situation for everyone involved.
The Tahitians went in knowing they’d be sent to the slaughter.
The Spaniards had to walk the line of professionalism and sportsmanship.
The fans were left unsure of whether to hope for excitement, an upset, goals, or a blowout.
In the end, Spain set the FIFA record for margin of victory and tied the record for goals in a match, and everyone got through the ordeal with their professional reputations intact, if not their egos.
It was a thrashing of epic proportions, but that doesn’t mean it was unsportsmanlike.
Spain should be praised for winning in an unparalleled fashion, but at the same time remaining entirely respectful and classy.
There were no individual displays of skill meant to show off and embarrass their lowly opponents. There was no showboating. The Spaniards congratulated their opponents at the end of the match and switched jerseys with the Tahitian players.
Most importantly, the Spain team showed the Tahiti squad as much respect as possible by not shutting the power down entirely. It was obvious Spain wasn’t trying their hardest – after Torres embarrassed himself with his missed penalty, the striker actually turned on the gas for once and the result was a goal within 30 seconds. However, the ultimate insult in a professional match would have been to stop trying altogether.
Tahiti must also be praised. They didn’t give up, and their manager Eddy Etaeta didn’t park the bus, instead choosing to press everyone forward. It backfired, but it represented an appreciation for the match, for the game, and for the opportunity presented to them. The squad should be lauded for taking this opportunity with open arms. They earned it (by FIFA’s standards, which one could argue should be reconsidered) and gave it their all. Spain recognized this.
Neither side played up fouls, nobody dove, no one got nasty, and everyone played with a respect for the situation.
The fans also should be commended. Each touch in the first half by Tahiti was cheered. Fans who begun rooting for goals ended up not only feeling bad about what they had been cheering for but also enjoyed the effort by the underdogs.
Even the referee should be lauded. He didn’t give the far better team calls for being better, and he didn’t give the poor underdogs any pity calls. It was a fairly called match, and the referee respected the game by doing so.
In a match which resulted in utter demolition on the scoreboard, it was the wonderful displays of respect, class, and professionalism that are the real story. The game is played by people, not numbers, and those people did us proud.