The bridesmaids became brides. The kittens became cats. The ugly caterpillar metamorphosised into a majestic brightly coloured butterfly. The rebirth of an entire football culture was completed this morning in Johannesburg, after years of trying, finally, Spain won the World Cup. It’d be hard to claim they don’t deserve the honour of world champions. A 100% record in qualifying and only conceded two goals in the tournament. True, they started their World Cup Finals campaign with a disappointing defeat to Switzerland but they dusted themselves down and rectified things…. in exactly the same way that England didn’t! They are now the only team ever to win the World cup having lost their opening match.
Unlike many people I thought the final was a good game. It was an intense war of attrition. It was Johan Cruyff, the man who has significantly influenced both these nations football cultures, who once declared that football is a game you play with your brain. His analaysis has rarely been more appropriate. It could be argued that by sitting deep Holland had ruined the game as a spectacle BUT what are they supposed to do? Play open and let Spain walk all over them? Like when Stoke City play a big team, we aren’t there to entertain we are there to try and get something. And despite Spain’s dominance of possession Robben squandered the best chance of the match. That wasted opportunity will haunt Robben and his nation like Rensenbrink hitting the post in the dying seconds in Buenos Aires in 1978 did. It could be another thirty years until the Dutch get so close to the biggest prize of all. But Casillas was there to make the save, proving that in a successful team every player does their bit. And Casillas is a chronically underrated bit!!
Howard Webb got some criticism much of it unfair in my opinion. Had he played by the strict letter of the law yellow and red cards would have been handed out willy nilly and he’d have received as much criticism for ruining the game. He had to make allowances for the various factors and overall did OK. The real glaring error was failing to give Holland that corner. Van Marwijk was fuirious about Webb after the match. Well he would be wouldn’t he.
After all the speculation regarding Nelson Mandela’s appearance it was great to see him attend. The word was that he would be presenting the trophy. It must have been a downer for Casillas who must have been expecting Nelson Mandela’s stature and greatness receive the trophy off Blatter!! They must have wondered why they bothered!
So, thats the end of that then. In the end Dunga’s pragamtic approach didn’t work for Brazil. Domenech really is as rubbish as has been implied for several years. Maradona really does have little tactical knowledge… but it took a while for confirmation of that!! Lippi’s ageing squad couldn’t hack it, despite it only being seven games and amzingly, New Zealand were the only unbeaten side in the competition. BUT England were definitely absolutely rubbish.
Brazil 2014 next. 1235 days to go. Anyone coming?
“Football is a simple game complicated by idiots” Bill Shankly
So holders Italy rather fortuitously drew with Paraguay. Brazil who are, well, Brazil, only beat North Korea 2-1 with the late consolation being one of the more surprising World Cup moments with European Champions and highly fancied Spain beaten by Switzerland.
Bearing these results in mind, can we please put England’s draw with the USA in perspective?? Of course we’d have liked to start with a win, (who wouldn’t?) but the level of criticism it’s provoked is beyond reason. The fact is that in a competition like this every side you face will present problems, even North Korea!! Looking back plenty of teams have made slow starts and gone on to have a fantastic tournament, not least England in 1990. In 1982 Italy were dire in the group stage then came through the pack and proved themselves to be the best side there. It doesn’t mean everything is all right or that FabCap hasn’t made mistakes or have questions to answer. It does show that it’s more important to respond to a situation than to react to it. There’s still plenty of time to do just that. A defeat to Algeria would be the time for soul searching and navel contemplation. And if it isn’t a swashbuckling 8-0 victory so be it. It’s a marathon not a snickers. Just ask Spain….
Spain’s defeat wasn’t really the colossal shock it’s being made out to be. Until 2008 they were known for bottling at crucial times. Winning the Euro might have settled them down but could also have increased unwanted pressure. Whether they are strong enough to handle that pressure we’ll find out in the coming weeks. If the game against Switzerland is a pointer the answer would have to be that they aren’t. Hitzveld and his team did a remarkable job on their more illustrious opponents. For much of the first half they had to allow Spain to have the ball BUT only in areas they knew they couldn’t get hurt. They went back to the simple principle that they couldn’t out play them so they had to outnumber them. And in the centre of the park Spain rarely got the chance to flow. Great work by the Swiss. Discipline and strategy upsetting the flarier team isn’t always the popular outcome but alternatively Switzerland could have let them play with fluidity and got beaten 6-0. If you were Swiss what would you prefer?? And when someone claims to be a football purist it just tells me they don’t or haven’t experienced the game to the same emotional depth that I do. And YES I am arrogant enough to say that!!
Seventeen games gone and this World Cup is starting to ignite. Let’s hope the momentum continues.
In 1982 three British teams qualified. For Scotland at this time qualifying was the norm. England reaching it was a relief after two failed attempts. The real eyebrow raiser was the involvement of the charming Billy Bingham, and his Northern Ireland team.
Little was expected of Northern Ireland. The resilience shown in the 0-0 draw with Yugoslavia was tempered by throwing a precious lead away to draw 1-1 with Honduras. To progress victory against Honduras was deemed essential as the final game was against hosts Spain. Nobody could have expected their game against Spain to conjure one of the most dramatic gripping games in the history of the competition.
Watching the grace of Xavi Iniesta and Torres gliding around the stadiums of Europe can be misleading. Spain weren’t always so graceful. In fact in 1982 their team was downright nasty. A horrible combination of diving and off the ball hacks accompanied by laboured unproductive play. An uneventful first half finished goalless then in the 47th minute the unthinkable happened. Billy Hamilton crossed for NI, the hapless Arconada parried weakly and Gerry Armstrong gratefully drove into the empty net. Amazingly Norn iron were leading.
Their problem was scoring 2 minutes into the half meant having to hold on for 43!! Spains attacking gained momentuim. The unfortunately named Ufarte had two shots stopped by Jennings. In the 62nd minute NI had Mal Dongahy sent off for an innocuous shove on Camacho. Hanging on for 30 minutes with 10 men? Surely it can’t be done!!
Wave upon wave of attacks beseiged the Norn Ireland penalty area. The desperation of the defending was balanced by the calm cool calculated keeping of Pat Jennings. Jennings delivered a performance that epitomised grace under pressure, collecting cross after cross and blocking shot after shot. Outside there was a huge thunderstorm and the norm back then would be to turn electrical appliances off BUT there was now way we were turning this off!
Eventually the final whistle blew and NI had completed their incredible achievement. An example of players becoming more than the sum of their parts. NI v Spain 1982 was one of the truly great World Cup stories.