This feature appears in the June 14 World Cup preview issue of ESPN The Magazine; you can locate all content from that issue by going here.
Take pity on Spain.
Over the past few months, one of its leading indicators has tumbled and the country's blue chips have underperformed. Suddenly, people around the world are taking a second look at the nation's fundamentals, wondering whether what once looked so vibrant and beautiful is, in fact, worn out and on the verge of collapsing under the weight of international pressure.
Oh, and the Spanish economy is hurting too.
It's easy to get carried away drawing parallels between a country and its national soccer team, but it's hard not to notice the anxiety that has simultaneously gripped Spain's financial markets and its soccer fans. While the nation tries to stave off fiscal panic, the sporting faithful are fending off doubts about the product on the field, on the eve of what should be Spain's finest hour.
A year ago, La Furia Roja were the prohibitive favorites to hoist the World Cup Trophy. What's more, this summer was supposed to provide the punctuation mark on an era of Spanish sports conquest, when years of global success in everything from hoops to auto racing would be capped off by a thrilling triumph in the world's favorite game. But headlines that once trumpeted, "They Reign in Spain," are now just as likely to be flipped into questions asking, "Can Spain Ever Reign?"