Monday, July 12, 2010


These are the reasons I was hoping Spain would win:

1) The winner's style / strength would be emulated around the world.  Spain's ability to control matches through possession and creative attack deserves to be held in such regard.  Their midfield passing is so exquisite - its beautiful to watch them operate.

2) Nigel de Jong broke Stuart Holden's leg from behind in March for no reason, IN A FRIENDLY.

3) In fact, I realized for the first time that very game that the Dutch played cheap - they fouled hard and dove easily.  Its like playing Guatemala.  Robben is one of the best attacking wings in the world and one of its premier divers.  Van Bommel kicks people's legs for fun.

4) Sneijder is not a good guy.  From all accounts, he's just a jerk.  An extraordinary wizard on the ball who can single-handedly control games as only a select elite few can, but still a world class jerk.  His spat with Van Persie is surely one of the reasons the two never linked up well this WC.  Ironically, I rooted for Sneijder and Inter to take out Barcelona in Champions League earlier this year.

5) Iker Casillas, like Spain, has been great for so long and deserves to have this trophy on the mantle.  I'll be happy for all the Real players when they realize their dream (and Del Bosque, who guided Zidane and Real early 2000s).

6) I like their wordless royal march of a national anthem.  Its catchy.  By the way, did their national anthem sound like it was speeded up or something?  Maybe its just the broadcast...

7) This is really the last true soccer country that hasn't been able to finally break through. Boasting one of the top leagues in the world, La Liga's players (most from Real and Barca) have formed the perfect team to represent Spain as its first champion.  The Netherlands might have great youth programs, like Ajax, but their top level teams are no longer among the best.

8) Spain's tactical superiority over a German side who had dominated England and Argentina was a sight to see.

9) A victory for Spain would be like when Mickelson finally broke through the majors barrier at the 2003 Masters.  A victory for the Dutch is like, well, Sergio Garcia doing it, which would elicit this response from me: "Eh, okay".

10) If Spain won it all, the US would be the only team to eliminate Spain in a major international competition during their dominant 2007-2010 run.  (Switzerland, by their own admission, closely followed US tactics to squeeze out a lucky 1-0 win in the first group stage.)  We want to be able to say that we beat the best.

When Sneijder's perfect pass (surprisingly, the only truly positive thing I can remember from him this game) threaded the Spanish defense and found a streaking Robben in the 2nd half with only Casillas to beat, I felt a sinking feeling inside.  It felt like Materorrist's goal in in the 2006 Final.  Were the bad guys going to win it all again?  Then, improbably, Casillas got his boot on it to deflect it wide even though he dove the wrong way.  That probably would have been game over.

I don't understand why the Dutch have been complaining about the ref.  I know he missed an obvious Dutch corner in extra time, but the biggest missed call of the night was when he only gave de Jong a yellow for his heinous karate kick on Alonso instead of the red that he deserved.  Had the Dutch been a man down from the first half on, Spain would have likely won that game by multiple goals easily.  Holland needs to shut up.  Their strategy wasn't to outplay Spain but instead to take them out of their game by fouling early and often.  Even Dutch legend, Cruyff didn't respect that.  If you're gonna play anti-football, don't complain when the ref starts carding you.  Every single Dutch yellow card (9 in all?) was deserved.  I even thought Van Bommel's tackle on Iniesta should have been red instead of yellow.

Personally I'm glad de Jong and/or Van Bommel wasn't sent off simply because it would've put a serious damper on the game early on.  This road to victory for the Spanish is much more satisfying.  After enduring a game full of dirty play, instigated by and predominantly carried out by the Dutch, Spain deservedly broke through in the waning moments and became the victor in the most dramatic of fashion, a la Landon Donovan v Algeria.

I must admit, I predicted a 2-1 Netherlands win.  I thought that if the US and Switzerland could frustrate Spain long enough as well as get a lucky goal (or two), the Dutch surely could do it as well.  After all, the Oranje were the only ones who had won all their games in the WC.  They were the ones to take down Brazil by coming from behind.  Spain had needed late goals just to advance and they could only get one.  And Sneijder was on top of the world after dominating in Italy, taking down Barcelona in the CL and winning it all - this was surely his year.

The US gameplan was there for everyone to see.  But Netherlands clearly opted for the cheap and dirty fouls route, which the US didn't have to do, and they got what they deserved.  And while Jozy's shot deflected off Casillas into the net, Robben's deflected wide.  That's probably the difference.

It wasn't a perfect night.  I wish Fernando Torres would've scored that winning goal.  It's a shame that a player of that magnitude was so out of form for the biggest tournament of his life.  Oh well.  At least he scored the game-winner to clinch the Euro 2008.

However, Iker Casillas showed up on the biggest stage.  Whether you think him lucky or not, he kept a clean sheet in all 4 games of the knockout round (and only allowed 2 through 7 games), including that enormous PK save vs Paraguay as well as stopping Germany's one great chance from Kroos.  Obviously in this game, his two saves on Robben' breakaways will be remembered forever.  With Spain only scoring one goal in each elimination game, Casillas had to be perfect.  He was.  It was slightly moving to see his emotional response to the goal.  With minutes still left on the clock, he started crying immediately.  You could see how much it means to him to finally win.  After during the media session, he had a Jerry Maguire moment when his emotion overwhelmed the moment and he kissed his surprised girlfriend, who was also the sports journalist interviewing him.

Iniesta benefited most from the introductions of Fabregas, who likes to attack directly - probably learned that in England, and Jesus Navas, the only true winger Spain employed, which provided much needed width on the right.  So Iniesta was able to assert himself more and more as the game wore on and also seemed to be the primary target of Dutch dirty fouls by the end (which got Heitinga sent off).  Navas and Fabregas were also massively important in the final scoring attack and Iniesta cooly slotted it home.

In the end, the right team won.  It wasn't a beautiful game, thats for sure.  The Dutch made it that way.  I thought Spain also didn't play as well in this tournament as they had in Euro 08 - perhaps starting a natural winger like Navas or Silva would've helped, or perhaps if Torres had been in form, their attack would have been more potent.  But perhaps this is fitting, the first victory of a trophy starved nation shouldn't come smoothly, it should come through struggle - and we all saw the blood, sweat, and finally tears.

Spain strikes me as the kind of (potentially elitist snob) nation that I won't be rooting for probably in 4 years, especially if they keep up their dominance, but for now, its good to see the best team to not win a WC finally prevail.

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