Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 World Cup Final: The Depressing Spain-Holland Final Analyzed

With the two nations involved, Spain and Holland, one would have hoped for a spectacular World Cup Final. In fact, it was probably the worst match of the entire World Cup after it was ruined by the referee, and we were treated to one of the most cynical displays ever by a team in a final. 
The relief factor is that the Spanish deservedly won. Had they lost this battle after the brutal and pragmatic approach by the Dutch, we would have had one of the game's great injustices.
Andres Iniesta, the man of the match in the final, was the player who provided the difference when it counted most. The little Barcelona playmaker was a target for rough treatment by the Dutch all night and it was fitting that he pulled the trigger on Holland's dreams.
To say that the Netherland's were physical would be a gross understatement and the referee deserves to held accountable for their approach to the game.

Howard Webb had a nightmare of a game, to put it mildly. In the opening minutes, he allowed players like Robin van Persie to go free without even talking to them after a number of rash challenges. And, when he finally should have put his foot down and stamped his authority on the match, he shirked his duty and allowed Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong to walkaway with yellow cards when red cards were more fitting.
He created the precedent for the match, in which these type of challenges would be tolerated, and Holland, as they have done all tournament, pushed the rules of the game to their limits.
To put it into context, Holland received nine yellow cards, including two to Johnny Heitinga. However, such were the Everton man's tackles all night that he should have picked up at least five bookings.
The rest of the Dutch team weren't too far behind, especially Mark van Bommel, who defies logic. The BayernMunich midfielder must wear an invisibility cloak or something. How he managed to stay on the pitch is anyone's guess.
Holland had done a lot of homework on Spain and they closed up shop in midfield with expert effect. However, such were their energies directed towards defence that they rarely had the ambition to attack, and only two real moments of forward play stand out. On both occasions, it was Arjen Robben who provided the threat, as he was put through one-on-one with only Iker Casillas to beat.
They restricted the space around Xavi, Iniesta, and Pedro, and as an effect, the supply lines to David Villa were cut off. If there is one major criticism of this Spanish side it is that they do not possess a player with pace in midfield, a player who can break like Arjen Robben.
It makes the tactic of stifling their play much easier, as all five midfielders are relatively one-paced and lack the ability to score goals from distance, with the exception of Cesc Fabregas.
For their part, Spain dominated proceedings and enjoyed the majority of possession. But, Holland's "thou shalt not pass" tactic ended more than one attacking foray prematurely.
Had Webb approached the match in normal fashion and not let the pressure of the big occasion get to him, the game may have worked out differently.
As the game limped towards extra time, Spain's better fitness began to tell and Holland were reduced to a midfield who were camped upon their own 18-yard box as Spain pressured.
Football purists all over the world were desperate for them to win, having been kicked up and down the pitch for 90 minutes without resorting to like-minded assaults. The way they carried themselves is a real credit to their discipline and football philosophy.
The most depressing and worrying thing about Holland was their manager's approach to the game—unimaginative and uninspiring tactics with a team packed with fantastic talent. Bert van Maarwijk seems to be another manager in a recent long line who believe in tactics over players.
Had he allowed his team to play their natural game, the result may have turned out differently. His starting 11 was perfectly balanced with Champions League-quality players in every position, so why did he choose to play so negatively and destructively?
For the most part, it is good for the game that Holland lost.
When coaches are teaching players the world over, they naturally lean towards the winners and try to emulate their style of play. If Holland had won, the game would have regressed.
Holland's display was appalling, both in terms of their tactics and their physical approach. One would have to figure that the Godfather's of Dutch Total Football, Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff, would not have been happy with what was wearing their brilliant orange on the pitch.
There was a huge shift is football philosophy in Holland after their defeat to Brazil in the World Cup semi finals in 1998, and we have to hope that there will be an outcry for them to revert to their old style after this shameful display.
The World Cup final was meant to be the spectacle that this tournament was lacking. Many hoped that the two best passing teams in the competition would serve up a game for the ages.
Unfortunately, they didn't, and we were left with an awful taste of bile as the showcase final we all wanted it to be was hijacked by caveman tactics.
The best term to describe the final is "toxic."
Had Holland won, the game as a whole would have been irrevocably diseased.
The game is already struggling under the gross finances allowed to players, the disastrous standard in refereeing, Sepp Blatter and FIFA, the lack of video technology, and the indiscipline of players. The whole of football will rejoice that the good guys won.
World Cup 2010 has gone from a mediocre tournament to being a poor tournament.
South Africa can hold its head high, as they ran an incredibly successful tournament in the face of stern warnings by journalists in Europe and South America on how dangerous the country was.
But as far as football is concerned, the tournament was below the bar. There was not one classic match, it had the second lowest goal tally of all time, and goals from outside the box from free kicks and headers were a rarity. The through ball was a thing of the past as the ball interfered and FIFA, interfering in a commercial sense by forcing the Jabulani upon the 32 competing nations, did the tournament an injustice, as the ball was so obviously below the quality that was needed.
And finally, negative tactics which were directly inspired by the dreadful pitches and the ball.
The one good thing to come out of South Africa is that Spain are champions. Sport defines itself by its champions—it always has and always will. To have a champion who plays the game in the manner it should be can only be good for the game.
Hopefully, children and coaches everywhere will try to emulate them instead of Holland.
The countdown to 2014 begins now...