11 July 2010

Spain 1-0 Holland aet

Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
Busquets Alonso
Pedro Xavi Iniesta

Van der Wiel Heitinga Mathijsen Van Bronckhorst
De Jong Van Bommel
Robben Sneijder Kuyt
Van Persie

Iniesta 116'

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.


Noel said...

We all dream of a team of Joey Bartons about sums up the Dutch performance for me. The Spanish hand-waving was annoying in the extreme, but it couldn't hold a candle to what was just a shocking, total repudiation of everything Dutch football would have been said to stand for before this World Cup began. How they even survived to the half without going down (at least) one man is something I understand even less after watching the match a second time.

Throughout the tournament they'd certainly been more conservative, more pragmatic--rather like Dunga's Brazil--but this went from evolving in order to seek success to pissing on the legacy of Michels, Cruyff, et al. It was the sort of display that forces you (or, well, me at least) to re-evaluate the way I view an entire national team, its legacy, and how I'll view them in the future. I rather suspect I'll be far less likely to root for the Dutch in neutral matches, at the very least.

And as you point out, there's certainly a depressing angle to the fact that they went so far and still came up empty.

Well, thanks again for some of the best WC write-ups out there, and here's to Torres not being out 'til January. And to being in Liverpool red whenever he is back fit.

nate said...

It was the sort of display that forces you (or, well, me at least) to re-evaluate the way I view an entire national team, its legacy, and how I'll view them in the future.

I think that's a little unfair on the Dutch. It's a credit to Spain that the "Dark Arts" were the only way to stop them after the Switzerland match. That's just how good the Spanish are at keeping possession. Brutally breaking up play, keeping the Spanish from finding a rhythm, was Holland's best chance of finding a result. If nothing else, van Marwijk was excellent at knowing the best way to "attack" the other team; sometimes it was attacking with the football, today it was attacking with fouls. De Jong's assault on Alonso was the only truly heinous offense, although van Bommel's yellow could also have been red.

If Robben finishes one of his two breakaways, or Mathijsen keeps down his extra-time header, we may well be lamenting/glorifying rough and rugged football against the dandy artistes. That's football.

Noel said...

That's a fair point--and I'll admit that I wasn't quite so incensed by the play of the Dutch after watching the game live. Perhaps it's down to seeing it all again through the prism of knowing that those constant fouls--with far too many studs up, late, and/or from behind for it to be the result of overly aggressive but honest play--would lead to nothing in the end that is playing too large a roll in how I'm inclined to view the Dutch squad right now.

It wasn't as though Spain didn't have a few glorious chances, either, even if they weren't quite so easy to seperate from the surrounding action that was a football match-like substance as Robben's.

Again, though, point taken that in the light of a Dutch victory I could well be trying to fit the events into some kind of "victory at any costs to overcome the demons of the past &etc." narrative. If the Euros roll around and they're once more willing to play flowing football, I suppose I'll have mostly forgotten the details of this match anyhow (aside, perhaps, from Iniesta's goal and De Jong's boot, because damn).

Still, I don't think I could ever really root for a squad that set out in to achieve the Mourinho ideal, even if when convenient I might be able to reflect upon its accomplishments in such a light that I could appreciate it on a purely intellectual level. At this point that would probably include the Netherlands if they chose to stick on this path, even if all future examples weren't quite as violent as today's. So perhaps it's more fair to say I leave today wary of embracing the Dutch down the road, where such hesitations might not have existed in the past.

lonelyportrait said...

Most reassuring photo of the summer?


ScottGA said...

That picture is probably the only thing I've smiled at regarding Liverpool this summer. Oh, that and the video of Pepe celebrating on the plane. Last bits of good I expect to see until the PL starts :(

vinnie said...

as much as an ugly game played by the dutch, i still thinks it was much better than how the germans handled the spanish. they practically laid down the red carpet and it was a boring one sided match. at least the dutch gave it a try; their philosophy failed time after time, why not try something different this time

Anonymous said...

Part of me.. just a little part is wondering whether it might be really smart to cash in on Torres now if Chelsea were to make a big offer. Do we really think there's any chance he'll last for a full EPL season?

nate said...

Part of me.. just a little part is wondering whether it might be really smart to cash in on Torres now if Chelsea were to make a big offer. Do we really think there's any chance he'll last for a full EPL season?

Heresy! He's a witch! Burn him!

vinnie said...

nah, we just need the whole team to pull the weight instead of relying on torres and gerrard. it's liverpool fc ffs; not torrard fc =/ roy understands the value of team unity, so i'm pretty sure he won't repeat the mistakes of rafa

steven. said...

i saw Tyler Durden somewhere in the stands holding a banner that said "Don't Talk About Fight Club" ..

keith.cygan said...

If we could be 100% guaranteed that the money from a Torres sale would -- pound for pound -- go directly into the squad, I think you could make a case for it, especially if Chelsea is really offering 50 million or more. The issue, of course, is that that guarantee doesn't exist -- there's just as good a chance as seeing that money pocketed as there is seeing it spent in the transfer market.

Noel said...

If we could be 100% guaranteed that the money from a Torres sale would go directly into the squad

This is always what it boils down to, and it really makes me wonder when some--particularly, I've noticed, those following other clubs and making condescending suggestions of what would be good for Liverpool--suggest that the ten million or so that might be reinvested from a Torres sale would somehow result in a better squad.

For those following other clubs it's all well and good to write it off as being uninformed when it's not a blatantly self-serving rent boy, but when supposed reds pop up with it it.s just... depressing.

Of course, from Torres' point of view he's now in pretty much the same bloody place that saw him willing to accept he needed to leave his boyhood club to achieve his goals. So yeah. But that's a rather different story than the Liverpool angle.