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The Netherlands versus Spain: MysticalDescent’s view


Netherlands Flag


Spanish Flag

1) Stekelenberg

1) Casillas

2) van der Wiel

3) Pique

3) Heitinga

5) Puyol

4) Mathijsen

11) Capdevila

5) van Bronckhorst (Braafheid, 105)

15) Sergio Ramos

6) van Bommel

6) Iniesta

8) de Jong (van der Vaart, 99)

8) Xavi

10) Sneijder

14) Alonso (Fabregas, 87)

7) Kuyt (Elia, 70)

16) Busquets

9) van Persie

7) Villa (Torres, 105)

11) Robben

18) Pedrito (Jesus Navas, 60)

So it is that one of the most disappointing World Cups for a long, long time has finally come to pass. It seemed appropriate that such a low quality World Cup was rounded off with a dire final. We all knew that we should expect the same sort of tedious football from the Spanish that had steered them all the way to the final, but the cynical and sometimes just plain vicious Dutch play came as a shock to everyone. Could there really be a better way to finish off the tournament that gave us the vuvuzela, awful defensive football and more diving and cheating than ever before?

As in almost every game that Spain have played at this World Cup, the first half was an absolutely dire affair that would have most people who don’t have a vested interest in the match sticking needles in their eyes and trying to purge the thought that there might be a game of football going on somewhere. The only thing that punctuated the awful, West Brom style halfway-line-ball fest tended to be a stupid ‘challenge’ from van Bommel that took out the man with the ball a mere afterthought. Aside from that, from the quality of the game you would assume that you were watching a fourth division match. The Dutch were incapable of stringing two forward passes together, let alone breaking down the Spanish defence, and so spent some time playing long balls to a non-existent target man. Holland playing a long ball game is like Stoke trying to play halfway-line tippy-tappy; both sides have the wrong personnel for such a tactic and so it proves to be a completely ineffective disaster. That’s not to say that the Dutch were ever in any danger from the Spanish. They were perfectly competent at keeping the ball on the halfway line, but when the opposition are quite happy to keep you there without applying any pressure, anybody can do that. When it came to making a forward pass, they just gave the ball to Iniesta who either kicked it out for a goal-kick, passed it backwards again or gave it away to a defender. The newspapers were absolutely lauding the boring, offensively inept Spanish display, but I genuinely cannot see what was so wonderful or why it is something to aspire to. Sure it’s effective, but that’s because Spain have the right players to make it work. A side equally attuned to a different system could probably overcome them, especially if they possess a plan B, something that the Spanish sorely lack. I have no doubt that the German team in four years time will eclipse this year’s Spanish team. I maintain that we should be looking to emulate the Germans rather than the Spanish, not just in terms of tactics, but in terms of mentality and what we require of our players. We could also learn a few lessons about getting rid of ‘stars’ if they are performing for themselves rather than the team. I’m looking at you, Gerrard and Lampard.

Having just mentioned van Bommel’s fouls, it seems a good time to discuss the role of the referee, Howard Webb.  Personally, I think he got it absolutely spot on, with the only real mistakes he made coming at the end. That said, I think it’s rather galling that the Dutch are now complaining. A more dramatic continental referee would probably have sent off a number of Dutch players in the first half alone, so the Netherlands was lucky to have a sensible referee who doesn’t throw cards around like confetti and encourage diving. One thing that most people seem to be really complaining about is that de Jong was only booked for kicking a Spanish player in the chest. Sure, it was spectacular and looked vicious, but I think Webb got it right. He didn’t go out to do a full on stamp in his chest, he went for the ball and misjudged it. We have the high foot rule for a reason, to stop things like that happening. That is why a dangerously high foot is punishable by a yellow card. Correct call from Webb. A tremendously difficult game for the referee to control made worse by the fact that the players seemed to abandon all responsibility in ensuring that the game was played out in the correct spirit. The Dutch were cynical and I am more than convinced that van Bommel was not playing ‘hard but fair’, but was just going out to make sure he kicked lumps out of his opponents. The Spanish, meanwhile, spent the entire 90 minutes throwing themselves at the floor, often pretending to be injured. Webb can be pleased with his performance, but the players should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

The second half started off much the same as the first, but the turning point was when the Dutch substituted Kuyt for Elia in the 70th minute. Kuyt was doing a reasonable job out on the wing, not pulling up any trees but getting himself involved in the game, protecting his full-back well and taking part in attacks. Sticking on the quick Elia was obviously intended as an attacking move by the Netherlands, but ultimately it was a poor move. He had the look of a young kid who had just wandered onto the pitch and he clearly wasn’t up to a match at that level. He could barely get himself into the game and when he did, he would just give the ball away. When it came to substitutions, however, it was obvious that the Dutch were attempting to change the game while Spain just kept plugging away with Plan A. The Dutch defensive midfielder de Jong was swapped for van der Vaart so as to press to win the game before penalties, but the Spanish just made like for like substitutions, replacing Alonso with Fabregas and Villa with Torres. The result was that the game did open up a little, with Robben having two very good chances to seal victory, but Spain still looking generally more assured. As the Dutch players began to look visibly worn and tired, it seemed that the Spanish tactics of attrition were working; they had held onto the ball for the majority of the game and the Dutch were exhausted. It didn’t really surprise me that it was Spain who took the lead and went on to win.

So there we have it then. The World Cup is over and Sepp Blatter has gotten himself onto all the trophy presentation photos. I’m sure FIFA have found this World Cup to be incredibly profitable and that the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor have enjoyed their free holiday in South Africa, but for the rest of us, it’s a tournament to forget. So much so, that from the end of this sentence, I shan’t be mentioning it again. Thanks for reading.

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