Monday, July 12, 2010
Brian Glanville in his History of the World Cup, talking about the 1990 final between Argentina and West Germany. Although this morning's game didn't quite reach the depths of that encounter, the words could have been applied with equal justice to the final of the 2010 tournament. A great shame that one of the best World Cups in recent memory should finish with a spate of richly-deserved yellow cards, spurned chances and referee ear-bashing.
It was some consolation that the right team won, and that the game wasn't decided by the unsatisfactory lottery of penalty kicks.
Bert van Marwijk, in fairness to him, got his strategy right, even if the implementation was unpalatable. Holland pressed the Spanish from the outset, as Paraguay and Chile did, and although Spain dominated the early exchanges, there was always the feeling that they hadn't quite settled into their familiar groove. Sure enough, by the half-hour it wasn't entirely clear who had the initiative.
By that stage, the succession of crippling fouls and cynical intimidation of the referee on the part of the Dutch had begun. Following the lead of the ceaselessly petulant Mark van Bommel, the men in orange whined, wheedled and berated Howard Webb throughout, and although plenty of yellow cards were produced, it could be argued that the bullying had its effect. Holland finished the last World Cup with nine men; this morning, they should have finished with seven. Both van Bommel and Nigel de Jong deserved automatic red cards for their shocking early fouls, de Jong producing a chest-high kick that would have done a kung fu master proud. And Arjen Robben, late on, already on a yellow, should certainly have been sent off for his truculent jab past Iker Casillas.
When Robben's two excellent chances arrived in the second half, his fading form, evident against Uruguay, was grimly apparent. Casillas did well to save on the first occasion, admittedly, but the Robben of the latter stages of Bayern's Champions League run would surely have buried the shot. David Villa hardly excelled himself in this game either, failing to make the most of a great chance that fell to him in the relatively more open second period.
It still baffles me why Vicente del Bosque refused to make use of Fernando Llorente after his brisk cameo against Portugal. With Fernando Torres plainly well off his best and Villa running out of steam, Llorente seemed the ideal choice to bring on in such a situation. Instead, the Spanish continued to boss the midfield but create little in the way of genuine opportunities. It seemed that the lack of a No.9, a Morientes, which I commented on earlier in the tournament, might come back to haunt them.
Luckily, Andres Iniesta was there to apply a good finish when it mattered. Had the game gone to penalties, Spain may still have won, given the legendary Dutch capacity for choking during shootouts (they are second only to England in that respect), but it would have been a hollow victory.
Congratulations to the champions. Spain have been the best national side in the world now for a good few years; they possess an array of midfield talent second to none, a deceptively strong defence, and probably the most dangerous striker in the world in Villa. Of course, cup competitions being what they are, del Bosque's men did need a bit of luck along the way; had Oscar Cardozo's penalty against them been retaken (as it unquestionably should have been), had Thomas Muller not been wrongly suspended for the semi-final, had Hugo Almeida's deflected shot crept inside the far post rather than outside it...
Never mind. In a sense, it was a righting of past wrongs, recompense for the terrible luck suffered by Spain's excellent side of a decade ago. But for Raul's missed penalty against France at Euro 2000, and some atrocious refereeing which denied them a quarter-final victory against South Korea in 2002, Spain's drought may have been broken much earlier.
And if anyone put a quick $100 on New Zealand finishing as the tournament's only undefeated team, that person could probably buy half of New Zealand by now.
Spain were looking to finish it in Extra time.
My take on the refereeing is that Webb did not want to send off a player so early in a final. However, to compensate, he ensured that Spain got the rub of the IMPORTANT decisions from that point onwards like the Puyol tug on Robben.
Agree on the final as well.
Can someone tell me where Paul the Octupus's blog is?
Ha! Actually I'm with Anonymous, I reckon I look a bit more like Casillas than Iniesta. Good to know that I can pass for Spanish though. ;-)
Really took the micky out, and despite Webb's debriefer probably saying he shouldn't have done it...was funny to see.
I think, at that moment, we all wanted to look like Casillas :(