Well, the World Cup is over and Spain are champions. Good. Balance is restored to the universe. The best team playing the best style managed to win.
The final itself kind of sucked. Holland avoided any semblance of trying to play with Spain. Instead, they must have decided that Germany lost because they were too deferential to Spain’s midfield, and therefore that the proper strategy to counter that tendency was to foul like motherfuckers for the entire match. It started just 45 seconds into the match, when Van Persie raked the back of Busquets’ knee with his cleat and barely avoided a yellow card; and it didn’t even end when Heitinga got sent off with a second yellow for dragging Iniesta down from behind when he was through on goal in the 109th minute — hell, they got two more after that for good measure, a total of nine (!) cards in all.
The English ref Howard Webb handed out a record 14 cards in the final, and he is going to get a lot of stick from the Dutch fans for favoring Spain. But believe me, he did a reasonably good job responding to an utterly cynical Dutch strategy, and while he missed a couple of calls both ways, he basically got it right. I was pissed that he kept slowing the game down with his constant whistles, but to Webb’s credit, he really did his best to keep this 11v11 for the full 120 minutes in very difficult circumstances. He could easily have sent De Jong off after half an hour for his WWE move on Alonso; probably could have sent Van Bommel off a couple of times, and probably should have sent off the histrionic Robben, who, at one point, chased him halfway up the pitch to complain because, for once, he didn’t go down when Puyol fouled him on a break and Webb let the play continue. The Brazilians must have loved that one.
Holland were just awful. But, to their credit, the brutal hacking strategy did disrupt Spain’s rhythm, and, it almost — almost — got them the win. Had Casillas not gotten a foot on Robben’s first break-away strike (as he dove the other way), had Robben taken his chance when he stayed on his feet after beating Puyol, you could have seen the Dutch steal this one 1-0. Their goalkeeper was excellent and kept them in the match. But for the fouling, they had a pretty interesting tactical response to Spain, pressuring them, interfering with passing lanes to break up Spain’s short passing game, and they really neutralized Xavi. Pity they couldn’t do it without eight cautions and a sending off.
Spain were not brilliant, not by any stretch. I thought they came out brightly, but lost their edge under the weight of the Dutch negativity. The early second half sub of Jesus Navas for Pedro was inspired, and he managed to get a lot more movement on the right wing. But I thought the 87th minute sub of Cesc Fabregas for Alonso won the game for Spain. He provided a Xavi Hernandez-like spark to the Spanish attack, and created at least three good chances in extra time, including Iniesta’s winner.
Anyway, Spain won, and they celebrated emotionally. This is a very big deal for Spain. It was cool that they changed into their red jerseys for the cup presentation. Here are two of my favorite YouTube vids, first, Spanish TV announcer Camacho on the goal call:
And, a little cute, but a choked-up Casillas interrupting his insanely hot girlfriend’s attempt to conduct a professional interview with him:
When the dust settles, and I’ve had a chance to reflect, I’ll do a summary of the tournament. But for now, I’m really happy with the result. Espana, campeones!