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World Cup Wed Jul 14 2010

World Cup 2010 - The Deserving Champions

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Spain have emerged victorious, winners of the 2010 FIFA World Cup; but you probably already know that, considering this was the most publicized sporting event the world over. The soccer spectacle this summer was on full display, the past month dictating commercial creation, shirt sales, and dominating televisions both in and out of homes. Spain's victory over the Netherlands this past Sunday garnered over 700 million viewers, with over 24 million Americans joining in.

The huddled masses were treated to a shocking game, one which flouted all the prescient expectation and frothing hyperbole heaped upon the matchup by the ESPN network. Bill Simmons and his ilk were almost shaking with perverse glee at a Spain-Netherlands final--both were tournament also-rans, both were known for their tactical and technical creativity, they shared a heritage trailing back the Dutch creation of 'Total Football'. Not surprisingly, no one predicted a choppy, foul-ridden, unrecognizable game--yet here we are a week later with referee Howard Webb having to stand in ridiculous defense for his rain of colorful confetti throughout the game.

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The officiating through the run of this World Cup had been notoriously suspect, but make no mistake--Howard Webb was the victim and not the culprit. Both teams were guilty of some gasp-worthy defending, but none more so than the Dutch, whose near constant aggressive challenging earned them a red card, far into the match though it was. Their general deportment throughout the match was deplorable, but one highlight which will surely stay with the record for years to come is the Nigel De Jong kick to Xabi Alonso's chest--a horrifying example of dangerous play, which even he admits he was lucky to receive only a yellow from.

While Spain never looked fully like themselves throughout the game, they still adhered to the foundations of their style: possession, control, and the exploitation of empty spaces through intelligent movement. The Spanish side provided the majority of actual creativity and positive attack up through extra time, and they rightfully earned themselves a winner, powered in off the foot of Andres Iniesta so late into extra time.

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Iniesta's strike gave me a measure of relief, a Dutch win--either from one of Robben's counter-chances or through a penalty shootout--would have far too close to Uruguay's advancement over the robbed Ghanians for comfort. It wasn't just their negative tactics and unappealing attitude which would have felt so wrong, but that they would have won as reactionaries and not practitioners of the beautiful game.

The Netherlands are the originators of some of the most striking and intelligent football ever played. Their Totalvoetbal, created by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff, isn't just an appealing way of playing football, but is so inherently Dutch in its execution that whatever brand of cynical and result focused style was on display this past Sunday made the men in Orange unrecognizable. Like angry doppelgangers, they made no pretense of build or attack, choosing instead to stifle Spanish attempts with harsh marking. Instead of playing their own brand of intelligent football, the Netherlands team put their hopes for goal on the counter, a plan derailed (twice) so poignantly by Robben, whose dreams will surely be haunted for the rest of his days.

The scorelines of Spain's matches throughout the World Cup did not tell the full story of their efforts, leaving them the lowest scoring champions of the tournament's history with only eight goals. It would be unfair to call them unworthy champions though, like the Barcelona team which makes up the majority of the Spanish roster, most teams choose to play them with defensive tactics, effectively putting their entire outfield between ball and net to discourage distribution and open channels for movement that if left open would be well capitalized upon by Spain.

The real story is that Spain deserved their victory. They came out as themselves every match, using the same formula which saw them undefeated but for 2 matches over the past 2 years. If they didn't score wantonly, they at least scored decisively. They did it in flurries of swift movement and calculated lines, swiping sharply at opportunity with cool heads to earn them not just goals, but goals that mattered.

So, give them praise. We have witnessed the culmination of a golden generation in Spanish football, and union of talents working cohesively towards one goal. They did it in the face of pundit skepticism, and national self-doubt--overcoming their most-unwanted label of 'cursed', finally earning the star over their crest.

Or maybe I'm wrong, and they owe it all to an Octopus.
octopusspain.jpg

 
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Den / July 14, 2010 4:44 PM

I'd argue that Spain's tactics of pass pass pass pass... pass pass encourage two types of opponents. Anti-football and ankle bashers. In fact, their style is extremely similar to anti-football, they just happen to have possession with as many defenders between the ball and their own goal... in a different part of the field. I'm not saying they don't deserve the win, I'm just saying they were extremely boring to watch compared to every other team in this world cup finals.
They are essentially Barca minus Messi... which is a big deal. I must say they looked much more entertaining when Xabi came off and Cesc went in. Less holding passes, more goal-ward passes.

MarkJ / July 14, 2010 11:20 PM

The best team won!!! The real world cup final was Germany x Uruguay. That was beautiful football! The Dutch adopted the philosophy: If you can not beat them bang them. This was the ugliest world cup final in history! Are those Dutch players dilusional? I thought the referee was actually on their side. They should have gotten 2 red cards right away.

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