… Even for people like me, who were rooting for Holland today, Andrés Iniesta saved us.
His goal in the final moment of the second half of extra time gave Spain a 1-0 win over the Dutch, giving Spain its first World Cup championship on the back of their Euro 2008 title.
His well-taken volley saved us from penalty kicks in a match that was already painful to watch at times (though I have to think it was more painful to play in), and penalty kicks deciding the World Cup for a second straight tournament would have been a brutal ending to what at times was a brutal game.
When many in the world believed in Holland its players, coach Bert van Marwijk maybe didn’t. Apparently unconvinced by a 25-game unbeaten streak and a sparkling perfect record through this World Cup, van Marwijk’s men did away with any commitment to attacking and turned the match into a seminar on fouling. The match featured 47 fouls – 28 against Holland, who were punished with 9 yellow cards (one resulting in the sending off of John Heitinga in extra tmie). Spain committed 19 fouls and had five yellow cards (one to Iniesta for removing his jersey following the late winner).
There is no shortage of talent in this Dutch team. Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, and Arjen Robben all have the ability to change a game, but Holland’s style of play today took all but Robben out of the game. He got two glorious chances on breakaways, but had the first saved by Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas and the second fell apart when he couldn’t get a good opportunity away after he was/was not impeded on his way into the penalty area. For all of Robben’s theatrics and embellishment in this tournament, the one time where hitting the ground might have earned his side a somewhat legitimate penalty, he stayed on his feet, got nothing, and had to like it. Well, OK, he didn’t like it, since he sprinted back up the field yelling at referee Howard Webb about how he’d been violated.
But Sneidjer was a non-factor, Van Persie brought just about nothing to the side, and Kuyt was subbed off in the 71st minute in favor of Eljero Elia – who is a promising player, but wasn’t the factor Holland needed him to be today, either, given 50+ minutes.
Playing cynically, Holland ran into a ref in Webb who took control early, booking players for dangerous challenges, then pretty much never let up. I don’t think he did a bad job, though he could have sent off Nigel De Jong for his Eric Cantona impersenation at midfield on Xabi Alonso. Of course, what ref in his right mind couldn’t find a reason to send off De Jong on a daily basis.
Webb kept dishing cards, and with the match going extra time, Holland were at a vast disadvantage due to the seemingly inevitable eventuality that someone in orange was going to get a second yellow. Heitinga obliged on a pull-back he pretty much had to make during a Spain attack, and off he went on 109 minutes. Iniesta scored seven minutes later, after Holland’s legitimate shout for a corner kick went ignored by Webb, who somehow didn’t see a Holland free kick bounce off the Spain wall before flying over the end line. Holland won possession back, gave it away deep in Spain territory, and Spain moved forward to grab the winner. It was a big miss from Webb, but so was letting De Jong play on. Had Holland been down to 10 men that early, Spain would have destroyed them.
For Spain, it’s unmatched joy in winning its first World Cup – becoming just the eighth nation to grab on. They are the first country to join the winner’s club since France in 1998. Spain are the first team to win its first World Cup in a tournament they didn’t host since Brazil did it in Sweden … in 1958. Their win is history making. And it’s deserved. They were the better team today and they at least tried to play when they weren’t being chopped down. They get full marks, their loss to Switzerland last month now nothing more than a somewhat amusing footnote to history.
Holland, meanwhile, fail for the third time in the final, but this one won’t see the Dutch getting much sympathy from the soccer world. Their play today didn’t do well to advertise the game, and it really did little to take advantage of the strengths that Holland has in its team. Why van Marwijk decided his team couldn’t play with Spain, I’ll never know. I think they could have. I think they could have played an entertaining game, and I think they could have victimized the Spanish defense.
But in large part, they didn’t really try. They had more than twice as many fouls (28) as shots (13), and put five on target. Given their style, there was no margin for error on the chances Robben got, and Holland got nothing from them. While I had picked them to win and wanted them to win, it would have been a bit ghastly if they had, playing the way they did.
They played with a thuggish fervor, and in the end, they did what Holland does – not win the World Cup. Since 1930, the Cubs don’t win a World Series, the Bills don’t win a Super Bowl, and the Clippers don’t win anything.
And Holland doesn’t win the World Cup.
They had a great chance today, and if they had played, I think they could have taken advantage of it. Instead, they fouled and hacked and tackled and kicked their way to yet another loss on the game’s greatest stage.
Bye bye Dutch … you won’t be missed as much as I thought you might have going in.
Congrats to Spain. Welcome to the club.
See you in Brazil in 2014.
Meanwhile, one final look at the Soccernet timer shows:
NEXT GAME IN:
00 hours 00 minutes 00 seconds
Damn. It went by too fast.
Today’s Record: 0-1.
Final Tournament Record: 35-29.