Saturday, July 10, 2010

World Cup 2010: The Pride of Liverpool

There are a handful of certainties going into tomorrow's World Cup Final. We'll see an eighth nation join the fraternity of World Cup champions. A European team will win outside the continent for the first time. And the trophy will be be cradled by a member of Liverpool Football Club. Holland's Dirk Kuyt and Spain's Fernando Torres share the same club jersey and a spot in the Final, but their experiences this past month have been anything but identical. The underrated Kuyt has had a dream tournament, while the hobbled superstar Torres has suffered a frustarting trip to South Africa.

Watching Holland play, you appreciate how Kuyt fits perfectly on the Dutch roster. Calling a player a "hard worker" is often a back-handed compliment, implying his effort is more impressive that his skills. But in Kuyt's case, his determined runs and non-stop energy have made so much possible for his teammates. Whether sending crosses into the box or flicking headers towards teammates, he is the ideal complement up front to Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. Kuyt is the classic role player on which championship teams are formed. He doesn't need to be the star, but he does so much to allow Holland's top players to flourish. He's even there to pick Sneijder up - literally - after a goal. The fact that he re-affirmed his commitment to LFC this week only endears him further to the Anfield faithful.

Watching Kuyt play for Holland, you also see why he sometimes struggles for Liverpool. LFC don't have a trio of stars like the Dutch, and when Torres or Steven Gerrard aren't in the line-up, he's asked to take over alpha dog status. That's not his strength. That's a responsibility that belongs to his Spanish teammate.

Two years ago Fernando Torres poked home the only goal in Spain's 1-0 win over Germany in the Euro 2008 Final and his offensive talents were among the reasons that Spain were pegged as a World Cup favorite. And while La Furia Roja can win it's first world title tomorrow night, little else has followed the plan for El Nino. Torres has not been at full strength since he had knee surgery in April, and his struggles forced Vicente del Bosque to leaving him out of the starting XI for the semifinal against Germany. He did look fresher coming off the bench and would have had a goal if Pedro hadn't been the only man in the stadium not to see him wide open in the box. But for a man who is considered one of the world's premier strikers, watching him sweat his place in the starting line-up on the eve of the final is a shame.

I should also mention the two other LFC players who will be at Soccer City tomorrow night, Holland's Ryan Babel and Spain's Pepe Reina. Unfortunately neither has seen a minute of action in South Africa. This is especially tough for Reina, a man who is talented enough to start for most national teams, but lands behind Iker Casillas on the depth chart. But at least Babel and Reina will have excellent seats for the world's greatest sporting event.

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