Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup 2010: A Final to Forget

The beautiful game this was not. Spain are the champions, and deservedly so, but those hoping that today's match would provide the perfect cap to an outstanding tournament were left bitterly disappointed. Holland coach Bert van Marwijk capped the unfortunate show best when he said "It's not our style, but you play a match to win."

The Dutch skipper summed up why the World Cup Final so rarely delivers a classic. Teams, especially the underdog, often abandon the tactics that brought them to soccer's ultimate game and instead play a conservative, tactical match that sacrifices fluid, entertaining play. In the case of Holland, they felt their best chances to disrupt Spanish ball possession was through a series of hard tackles, far too many of which resulted in fouls.

Not that Holland didn't have their chances. Arjen Robben unthinkably missed on a breakaway near the midpoint of the second half and minutes later he had a legitimate gripe when Carles Puyol held him up in the box. Ironically, a player who has earned a reputation for diving didn't get the call because he stayed on his feet.

Soccer has a way of rewarding the better team and Spain's reward came in the dying seconds of extra time. The winner by Andres Iniesta, much like the match itself, wasn't pretty, but in the eyes of every Spaniard, it was reason to celebrate. Vicente Del Bosque's men now stand as one of the most accomplished squads of all time. Only West Germany (1972-74) and France (1998-2000) have held both the World Cup and the European Championship simultaneously, and the previous two needed home field advantage to capture the Cup. And let's not forget a point that was raised so often after Spain dropped the opener to Switzerland; they become the first side to win the World Cup despite losing their opening match.

As for the hosts, South Africa, they shook off all the pre-tournament criticism to deliver a fantastic event. The spirit of the home fans was evident throughout, and the nation should be proud. For all the grief Sepp Blatter has taken, he deserves credit for standing behind the hosts when so many were calling for the tournament to be moved elsewhere.

History will not remember tonight's match fondly, but for fans from Barcelona to Zaragoza, the painful night of viewing will be overshadowed by their team's crowning triumph.

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