Sunday, 11 July 2010

United Spain are worthy world champions

Worthy winner
Spain swept through the World Cup Final with skill, drill and at the death, thrill. Starting the tournament as favourites and European champions, they've now become the sport's eighth world champion.

But there's a new generation of Dutch bridesmaids too. Think of Cruyff, Neeskens and Krol. Of Gullit, Rijkaard and van Basten. Of Bergkamp, Overmars and Stam.

Now add Robben, Sneijder and van Bommel to that list. For all the pomp and brilliance of Holland's previous generations, the class of 2010 couldn't exorcise the ghosts of '74 and '78. Instead they helped bestow upon Spain the greatest of honour of all with tough, uncompromising, frequently ugly play.
Holland Kong Phooey
The nineteenth World Cup Final blazed goalless through nearly two hours to reach resolution. Then Andres Iniesta brought down a pass from Cesc Fabregas to fire past Maarten Stekelenberg in the Dutch goal. Holland argued that the game might've been held up with a foul on Eljero Elia. Their protests fell on deaf ears.

Eight Dutchmen were scribbled into referee Howard Webb's book; the Total Football of Ajax and Holland it certainly wasn't. Johnny Heitinga saw red and thirteen others were booked. The man in the middle's never been so busy in a World Cup Final.

But for Spain, it's Total Victory. They're only the third nation to be world and European champions at the same time.

At opposing ends, both Robben and David Villa will be haunted by failure to convert golden chances. Both were denied by last-gasp interventions by the keeper. Sergio Ramos will wake up in the middle of the night too. He blazed a free header over the bar twelve minutes from normal time. Luckily for him, they won.

The second half was open and end-to-end, it was a surprise we needed thirty extra minutes to decide the destination of the prize.

Total Football reputation destroyed in one night.
But perhaps the lack of resolution in 90 minutes is a fitting end to this World Cup. A tournament mostly dictated by well-drilled, evenly matched teams who gave little away, many of whom ground out their results through fear of losing.

Despite wielding cards like confetti, Howard Webb, the first Englishman to referee a World Cup Final since Jack Taylor in 1974 had a solid game and showed great leniency (and humanity) when deciding not to send off Robben as the winger deliberately kicked the ball into the net after the whistle had blown. It would've been his second bookable offence.
Paul McGrath's dad and someone else waving.

Iker Casillas, still only 29, is a world champion in his 111th appearance for his country. Even Nelson Mandela made an appearance at Soccer City. Apparently, FIFA put him under some pressure to show up. He dropped out of the Opening Ceremony last month after the tragic loss of a great grand daughter in a car crash.

But it's Spain who become champions for the first time making sense of their great heritage at last, and all is right in the footballing world.

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