Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
Pedro Xavi Iniesta
Van der Wiel Heitinga Mathijsen Van Bronckhorst
De Jong Van Bommel
Robben Sneijder Kuyt
Good defeats evil.
There is a reason why teams up against proponents of "the beautiful game" turn matches into wars of attrition. Because it usually works. Pity for the Dutch it only worked for 115 minutes, but if we want to bring in concepts of fairness, karma, and justice, well, we got the right result. In an unjust universe, that's not usually the case.
47 fouls. 14 yellow cards. 1 red card. 13 offsides. 11 shots on target. 1 goal.
I guess it shouldn't have surprised. Spain had won their last three games by the same scoreline. And pragmatic Holland were always going to make it difficult. But I didn't expect this anti-advertisement for football. Finals frequently disappoint, but this was especially ugly. Nine of those yellow cards were shown to Holland – it should have been more, and they should have been down to ten long before the 109th minute. It's easy to criticize Howard Webb after that (and I will, thank you), but neither side helped him out.
When Ramos nearly scored in the 5th, a free header well-saved by the diving Stekelenburg, it looked like we might actually get that aesthetic steamroller we'd hoped for. Holland couldn't get the ball for love or money in the first 10 minutes; Villa nearly got on the end of a chipped ball over the top, Ramos' center was almost turned into the Dutch net by Heitinga. But then the Netherlands made their mark on the game and Spain. I hope the more literary media outlets make multiple references to the Eighty Years' War.
Van Persie had set the tone with a late kick on Busquets in the second minute, and got his yellow in the 15th. Van Bommel saw one, which could have been red, seven minutes later, charging in on Iniesta. And five minutes after that, de Jong definitely should have seen a straight red for kung fu fighting with Alonso, leaving stud-marks on his sternum. There's pragmatism and there's brutality. I can't help but point out the parallels with Holland's last appearance in the final, Clockwork Orange beaten and bruised by the hosts Argentina in 1978. Neither totaalvoetbal nor shock and awe seems to work for the Dutch. Meanwhile, Spain weren't winning any friends by reacting theatrically and begging for bookings with every foul. This team is heavily modeled on Barcelona, after all.
Don't get me wrong; other than the disgusting antics, it was an eminently watchable match despite the dearth of goals. As per usual with Spain. Both side had chances, especially as the game went on, and both Robben and Villa spurned opportunities you'd wager anything on them scoring after the hour mark. First, the Bayern winger split the centerbacks running onto Sneijder's through, only to see Casillas somehow save with his biggest toe. Six minutes later, the substitute Navas sprinted down the flank and sent in a low cross that Heitinga could only touch to Villa, but the sprawling centerback somehow still blocked the close-range shot. Ramos headed over another set play in the 77th, Robben amazingly stayed on his feet on a breakaway (yeah, really!) in the 83rd despite being fouled by Puyol, only to see Iker come out to smother. Either team could have won this game in normal time as both played the style they set out to.
Unsurprisingly, as legs continued to tire, the game continued to open up. Holland replaced Kuyt with Elia and de Jong with van der Vaart. Spain responded with Navas for Pedro, Cesc for Alonso, and finally Torres for Villa (during the extra-time interval). Neither side made a "defensive" substitution; at worst, it was like-for-like, and at least that's admirable. Stekelenburg made a huge save on Fabregas, set up by Iniesta, in the 95th. Mathijsen somehow headed a free attempt over less than a minute later. Then Navas, open on the right, saw his strike deflected into the side netting.
And in the 109th, we finally got the inevitable red card when Heitinga picked up his second yellow, pulling back a potentially-through Iniesta just outside the box. From there, Holland could only play for penalties, and Spain made them pay at long last. Torres' smart early cross was under-hit, but the off-balance Dutch defender could only clear it to Fabregas, who set up Iniesta for a smashing winner on the bounce, with the Barca man whipping off his shirt to display a classy tribute to Dani Jarque. There's no response to that with less than five minutes left and a man disadvantage. Of course, we still have some controversy, as Holland should have had a corner instead of a Spanish goal kick, while Elia was arguably fouled, in the build-up to the winner. Karma is a bitch.
Given my Liverpool bent, I'd be remiss if I didn't give my congratulations to Torres and Reina, and condolences to Kuyt and Babel. Yes, I was wrong; Torres didn't start once again, and it was the right decision given that he pulled up with what appeared to be cramp (and hopefully hopefully hopefully not a hamstring injury) right at the end. Pedro didn't impress, but Spain's other subs did: Navas stretched the game well, while Fabregas set up the winner and could have had one himself. Meanwhile, it was probably Kuyt's worst game of the tournament, and little surprise to see him off for the more attacking Elia in the 71st. Liverpool's players had a tough club season, and those in the final had a tough final. Sorry guys. I hope for all of us that next season is better.
So, man bites dog and beauty beats the beast. The right team won. That they're the current European champions, and despite a loss in their opening game, makes it all the more impressive. Ignore the 1-0 results if all you care about is goals. This Spanish side is one of the best teams to ever play international football. The best team doesn't win often enough.