I managed to watch 105 out of the 120 minutes of the World Cup final live at a pub out in Bellevue on Sunday. The Spain/Netherlands game was definitely what I expected it to be. Grind-it-out, nerve-wracking final. I feel it was much better than the 2006 final, partly because (1) the team that I absolutely hate almost as much as the L*kers, Italy, won it in 2006 and (2) because it went to a penalty shootout, which I hate to see especially for a final since it’s so gut-wrenching.
But here’s just some of my thoughts on the game itself…
Spain seemed a little off…
It was one of those games where Spain’s game wasn’t exactly as planned. While they did dominate possession, usually plays that they would have connected were completely off target. Ramos was a prime example of this, missing two pretty crazy headers. I’m not taking the excuse that headers are hard to do because these are professionals that get paid millions to score goals on set-pieces and chosen as one of the starting XI of your entire country. Fabregas, who had been on a goal scoring tear this season in the EPL and UCL, missed what should have been an easy chip for him. Even David Villa’s missed attempt inside the six yard box was unbelievable.
The only thing I can think of to really explain this was the stage itself. The nerves of playing in the final could have resorted in the missed opportunities.
… but it wasn’t as bad as the Netherlands
Two words: Arjen Robben. If there was a scapegoat for their loss, it would have to be him. He had two amazing opportunities as well to win the game outright for the Dutch, but failed miserably. The first goal should have been all his, but Iker Casillas had an amazing foot save to keep Spain in it.
Why the change of tactics, Oranje?
It was obvious that the Dutch couldn’t outplay the Spaniards in a possession focused game because they’re not as precise with their passing, but they could have at least tried. Instead, they went with the tactic that isn’t really known to work… Physical play. In the end, they had a total of eight yellow cards and one red card. There should have at least been one more red card for De Jong for his ninja kick on Xabi Alonso in a lack of actual play on the ball. Maybe it was to stir up Spain and force them out of their rhythm? Well, it definitely got Spain upset and frustrated over the course of the game, as they managed to get some yellow cards of their own. They got five that game (they had only three coming into the final… for the entire tournament).
Could they have beaten the Spainards in a possession game? Probably not, but at least it would have denied possession for Spain, which is what one needs to do in order to beat them. That and press Spain in order to force them to make mistakes. That’s how the Swiss did it and they were a much weaker and just as athletic as the Dutch, maybe a little less. But they paid the price for that.
Subs making an impact
Fabregas, Navas, and Torres in for Xavi Alonso, Pedro, and David Villa for Spain, while the Netherlands had Elia, Van Der Vaart, and Braafheid for Kuyt, De Jong, and Van Bronckhorst. They all had a pretty positive impact on the game. The last sub of Braafheid for Van Bronckhorst should have come sooner, however, since Jesus Navas was creating major problems on that wing for Van Bronckhorst.
But of all six players, it was Fabregas that was the greatest impact as a sub. He created a number of great passes, as well as missing the golden opportunity late in the second half. Ultimately, it was him finding Iniesta that resulted in the game winning assist for La Furia Roja. (On a side note, I can’t wait to see him back in an Arsenal shirt again this season. He’s got something to prove now to the world, again.)
Keepers kept their teams in the game
Not really much more to say than this. It could have been high scoring if it wasn’t for some of the great reflex saves by Casillas and Stekelenburg. It was unfortunate that one of them would have to face the fact that they’ll concede a game winning goal at some point in the game. They both had excellent tournaments and some great saves for their teams all throughout.
It wasn’t as ugly of a game as critics described
Sure, there were a lot of yellow cards, but when you have changes in tactics to combat the other team’s tactics, what would you expect? Overall, the game provided a lot of great moments, nail-biting plays, and a lot of “Oh my gosh!” moments throughout. It’s good that the game didn’t go to a penalty shootout because that would have been an awful way to decide this game. Each team had found some great chances and while they might have missed golden opportunities to take the lead, you have to credit the keepers for getting those saves as well.
Spain still managed to get their characteristic passing game going, while the Dutch showed a lot of energy, heart, and grit to fight it out with the Spaniards to the dying minutes of the game, something that they’ve done all tournament.
Final thoughts on the final
Again, it was just a great game to end the tournament. Like I predicted, it was going to come down to a single goal that eventually went to the men in red. Both teams fought hard and with great emotion (hence all the cards from Spain and some from the Netherlands). But that’s what the world wanted to see. Sure, it might have not been a high scoring game as people imagined, but I can’t see how good it would have been for the game on the world’s biggest stage if that was the case. Both teams had solid defenses to complement their even stronger midfields and attacks.
Having a scoreless game built up the drama and intensity of the game going into extra time. The only certainty of it was that a goal would prove to be the climax of the game. As the game progressed, you knew it was going to happen too. Congratulations to Spain on winning the World Cup. Very much deserved for La Furia Roja.
Final thoughts on the tournament
I think that this World Cup was great. The power of the European game came out the eventual winners of the tournament, but we got a great look at the rest of the world as well. The storyline of South America vs. Europe was great, along with the smaller teams (Slovakia) and unexpected ones (Ghana, United States). It also showed that just because you’ve won it in the previous tournament, have the all-star attack, are favored to win it, or came close doesn’t guarantee anything. Italy, Argentina, Brazil, and France all learned that lesson. But that’s what makes the World Cup great. All these story lines happening in the span of one month.
But even greater was the unity of the entire world for one event. It didn’t matter if your country was in the tournament or not, everyone was keeping an eye out on every single game. People that didn’t speak the same language still celebrated and cried together. It was just an awesome sight to see all this. Soccer isn’t just a beautiful game, but it’s a unifying game. You don’t need to speak the same language to speak and play the game.