Netherlands 0-1 Spain (after extra time)
Call this one a win for attacking soccer.
Although it doesn’t seem that way after four consecutive 1-0 victories, but throughout this World Cup, Spain were committed to the patient possession game that had gotten them to that spot. Even after the fluke loss to Switzerland in their opening game, they didn’t change tactics against Honduras or Chile. Even when Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel (both of whom could have easily earned straight red cards today) tried to knock them off their game, they kept pushing forward, which, in turn, frustrated the Netherlands. When Sergio Ramos, the main provider of width for the offense, had to stay back to contend with Arjen Robben, they put in Jesus Navas, a more traditional winger, to spread the defense.
They simply didn’t stop coming at their opponents. That’s why they are the deserving champions. And for the goal to be scored by Andres Iniesta, so often overlooked because of Xavi’s brilliance, was a nice touch.
Granted, it helped that they have a great defense, too. OK, maybe Gerard Pique had another shaky game (I think the only past or present Manchester United player to have a good tournament was Diego Forlan), but when Iker Casillas can stop Robben twice on breakaways (note to Robben: stop diving and develop a right foot), mistakes don’t always hurt you.
As for the Netherlands, again, as with four years ago, you saw two teams here: beautiful in the group, cynical in the knockout rounds. When they couldn’t get to Spain, they tried to work the ref, who wanted none of that. Had Robben hit the ground when Carles Puyol barely touched him on the second breakaway, Howard Webb would have booked him for diving. So he stayed on his feet, which allowed Casillas to make the play. Then Robben began shouting at Webb for not calling a foul, which earned him a yellow card for dissent. And yet, Luis Suarez leaves South Africa as the biggest villain in the game. Go figure.
So that’s it for me. Life returns to normal tomorrow. Thanks for reading these updates over the course of the past month. They’ve been a lot of fun to do.