Posted by: Paul | July 12, 2010

The Good, The Bald, and The Ugliness

What is it about recent World Cup Finals? The pressure to win obviously gets to both sides and their desperation to claim sport’s biggest prize boils over into aggression and unsporting behaviour.

Last night’s final, the first to be contested by two teams who had never won the trophy before since Argentina vs Holland in 1978, will not go down as a classic. It was ill tempered, tense and marred by a few poor refereeing decisions by Howard Webb. I’m no great fan of Mr Webb – he seems to have it in for Spurs, especially in games against Man Utd – but you have to admit that this was an extremely difficult game to referee. He showed restraint with his cards earlier in the tournament – but once that first yellow came out last night they just didn’t stop flowing.

A total of 13 players were booked, including one Dutch sending off which undoubtedly led to the dam breaking and Spain’s pressure paying off. That’s not what I want to see in a final between two such great teams – I want end to end stuff, free-flowing attacking football. There was some of that of course, but the best moves of the game (from Holland’s Arjen Robben) were both thwarted by great saves from Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal. And Stecklenburg at the other end made his own contribution, saving with his feet from Fabregas.

About fifteen minutes into the second half and it was starting to get tiresome. Not only were the Dutch putting in some horrendous challenges – both Van Bommel and De Jong could arguably have been sent of for dangerous play – but the Spanish were now also looking for them, desperate to get someone sent off. After a small tap on the ankle David Villa rolled no less than four times. Both the unfair challenges – from both sides at times – and the play-acting which inevitably followed ran a serious risk of turning the occasion very sour.

Ninety minutes without a goal and both sides had spurned gilt-edged opportunities. Sergio Ramos now stuck a free header over the bar from six yards. Extra time beckoned, and with Holland scrambling to keep things together after the sending off of John Heitinga, the deadlock was finally broken on 116 minutes by Iniesta, with a great strike after being played in by Fabregas. The Dutch will complain that the goal was a gift from Howard Webb, after he failed to award a free kick at the opposite end and Spain broke away while the men in orange waved their arms in frustrated protest. With just 4 minutes to go, Holland were broken and Spain victorious.

It was the right result at the end of the day – despite the decisions which went against them, Holland were definitely second best and will come in for a lot of criticism about the overly physical nature of their play. Their gameplan was to attempt to shut Spain down, stop them from playing at all costs, and it resulted in the booking of eight of their players. No-one can argue that’s the way to win games.

Well done Spain – the first team to win the World Cup having lost their opening game, and the first European team to win the trophy outside Europe. Worthy winners, and a genuine ‘golden generation’ of players – Team England, take heed.

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