After 116 minutes of struggle, the underachievers, Spain, finally got the better of the other perpetual underachiever, Netherlands, to be crowned World Champions. The match was not a top draw one and until the latter part of the second half, no team seemed competent to break through the other’s defence. In a foul marred scrappy match (did the Dutch create a world record for the most carded team in a game?), Spain just managed to pip the Dutch to the post and win glory.
It was a commendable Dutch performance in terms of strategy, especially the strong defence (specifically Van Bommel and Mathijsen) but it wasn’t a pretty sight to see them ambush the Spaniards and reducing the game to a slugfest (can De Jong’s kungfu kick into Xabi qualify as anything else other than thuggish?). Their plan was to get up close and personal and they held out till the very end till the weight of the all those cards finally stopped them. The Oranjes would reckon that Arjen Robben should have put across the two simple chances and taken them to the trophy in normal time but the Spaniards too missed out on many opportunities until Iniesta finally managed to breach the Dutch goal. Spain was the better team but it was a pretty close fight (literally).
We deserved a better final after the wonderful Group Stage matches and even more entertaining 3rd place play-off but I am glad Spain won. If the Dutch had triumphed, it would have been bad for the game because there is no place for the way they approached the match.
A look at the top teams:
Pradeep: The La Furia Roja stepped into South Africa as the hot favourite and went all the way to the podium, in a spirited display of educated technical football. They started on a wrong footing stumbling to Switzerland and were patchy at times (as in the Paraguay match) but did well to grind most of their opponents and win through their superior ball possession skills. For all practical purposes, La Roja is the Barcelona team, sans Messi and their success in the last couple of years mirrors the success that Barcelona has been enjoying. The Spaniards, with their pressing strategy, played with immense patience ensuring that in all the games their ball possession was superior to their opponent. The semi-final with Germany was a lesson in clinical football where the Germans were outclassed by a classy team. The team is well balanced with the most creative midfield (Iniesta, Xavi and Xabi) in modern football and a strong defence (Puyol, Piquet and Sergio Ramas). They did not score too many goals but their phenomenal ball possession meant that the opposition was always defending, with very few chances to gain control of the match as Germany realised. Of course, it is unusual for a World Cup winner to score to just 7 goals (despite high levels of ball possession); for all the creativity displayed in the midfield, they just do not seem to have a great finisher (which Messi does for Barcelona). They may have been a tad lucky at times but then surely, Dame Luck needed to smile a bit to crown the best team in the World Cup.
Pradeep: They came, they saw, they conquered but sadly only the hearts of the people and not the Cup. The German team, under Joachim Low, played eye-catching entertaining football (in continuation with Klinsmann’s attacking style started in FIFA 2006) and taught Latin America a lesson or two in Joga Bonito. In almost all the games, they managed to score early and hold on to their lead till the mid of second half and then slaughtered the tired opposition by their relentless attacking. The young, multi-ethnic team won many fans for their open and counter attacking football (Socrates called them the true successors to the legendary 1970 Brazilian team) but were stopped by the tactical efficiency of the Spaniards. The free flow of the Germans was literally choked by the spectacular Spanish midfield and lost the battle comprehensively (even though the score line of 1-0 may suggest otherwise). Give the ball to the Germans and they are all over the place and so the Spaniards just cut off their oxygen (did the Germans actually have 51% possession of the ball!!!) and got them to play in closed tactical manoeuvres which starved them. The young brigade of Muller, Oezil, Khedira were finds while the old warhorses- Schweinsteiger (not exactly old at 26!!!), Klose and Podolski- gave excellent support. The young team has raised high hopes and FIFA 2014 could see the team at their peak.
Pradeep: Right from the beginning, the football was only about Maradona and Messi and remained the same way till the end. They attacked well in the league stage against smaller opponents and though Messi did not score, he was the main playmaker. Their initial games raised a few hopes of Latino magic but it was always going to be a tall order for an Argentinian team that struggled in the qualifiers and just about sneaked through in the play-offs. In the Q/F, they were however whipped by the Germans and played the price for a defence that never existed. Messi received practically no support with the exception of Tavez who was running across all over the pitch; they seemed such a rusty outfit against the well-oiled German machine and were simply dismantled by their opponents. Maradona is no great strategist and he simply relied on the players to just go out and deliver (being a genius makes it difficult to understand trivialities like team strategies) but the team were nowhere near the class of the previous WC team which had the likes of Crespo, Messi, Saviola, Veron and most importantly, Riquelme (who refused to play under Maradona and retired). There was over dependence on Messi to deliver but the Argentinan midfield was no Barcelona and simply gave way to Schwenstiger and his boys who controlled the area with absolutely no difficulty whatsoever. The defence was always the pain area and while it was ok to play that way in the league games this way, better opponents would have hit them in this area.
The current Brazilian team may not possess the same elan of their illustrious predecessors but Jogo Bonito has been conspicuously missing since the late 80s anyway. Dunga’s boys were joint favourites with Spain; they played pragmatically and had a similar approach as the Spanish in controlling the ball (strategy not implementation, mind you) but were outwitted by the Dutch in a game that were theirs to win (atleast till the Dutch struck their first goal). The dominating game in the first half was suddenly lost and they seemed to suddenly mentally disintegrate and hand the match over to Netherlands. A slight defence lapse with some bad luck thrown in (Sneijder’s goal) and suddenly, the team looked lost for ideas. Kaka struggled throughout and Robinho seemed the only player capable of pulling off a goal; though the defence was strong, the midfield did not create much of an impression. Surprisingly, one of the most talented teams in the world did not seem to have enough bench strength in the WC to make things happen and they were waiting for the opponents to make mistakes than create chances.
Pradeep: Holland has always been the delicate underperformer whose style endured them to the public but victory always eluded them. Successive teams always faced comparison with the ‘Total Football’ of Cryuff and Neeskens but this Oranje team was not the most brilliant team from Holland or even in the World Cup. And yet the Dutch produced some of the positive football that has brought them this far in South Africa. They played as a team brushing aside the constant rumours of inner team conflicts relying on a hard, straight; physical game. In most games, the Dutch sparkled in the second half with the likes of Arjen Robben, Sneijder and Kuyt emerging as the key men, along with Van Bommel as a key defensive cog. Their play in the final may not have earned them too many admirers but it was effective and they managed to control the Spanish Armada and almost took the game away from them. In the semis, they stunned Brazil with a strong counter attack and forced them to lose their cool and the match, unlike the Spaniards. Robben would rue his missed chances in the final but with eight yellow cards, 14 shots to Spain's 21, 28 fouls to their 19 and 37% possession, Spain was the better team.
Well it is a pity that Rooney did not play well.. I was surprised to see that Rooney was playing in a non-committed fashion. He never went for the 50-50 balls, rather than playing he was okay to make the defender clear the ball and the most surprising thing was he was not effective with one on one marking. I have literally watched all his games for United last season and this is very unlike him..Without him England was no where near to their best.
Cheaters, deceivers, etc.. whatever u want to call them, they played some good team football.. Spain was the only other team who played as a team... Unlucky to progress but Nederland's were too much for them..
A few observations:
1. The Golden Boot should be given to Paul, the Octopus. By the time we had come to the semis, it looked like the punters had more faith in the German octopus than the actual performers. Rumours abound that Paul would be adopted by Spain and rechristened-Pablo.
2. The Vuvuzela was supposed to be the African equivalent of the Mexican wave but all it was to drown the voices of everything around. It was irritating that you could not get to hear the commentators on TV and everytime you increased the volume, the buzzing just increased.
3. The Jabulani (the Zulu word means ‘to celebrate’) ball manufactured by Adidas was criticized by everyone with Fabiano calling it “supernatural” but the Germans who have already adopted the ball for their domestic league had no complaints and kept slamming the ball into the nets. Incidentally, it seems the ball has an Indian connection - the bladder at the core of the Jabulani is made by Enkay Rubber in a factory in Gurgaon, using latex sourced from Kerala (this is not Manorama news!!)
4. The referees played spoil sport and allowed players to dive with impunity (Arjen Robben needs a special mention for his skills) and whipped up cards for no specific reasons other than itchy hands. FIFA’s reluctance may have costed England and Mexico dear (personally, I think England was anyway 2nd best to Germans on the day but why give the cry babies a chance to complain), especially with the whole world watching live on TV. They can learn a techno trick or two from cricket and tennis.
5. The stars were non-starters and were prominent on the papers than the field. Superstars like Ronaldo, Rooney, Kaka and Torres were sadly in another Time Zone and only served as liabilities for the team. Messi may not have scored but he played a role in almost all Argentina’s attempts.
6. The free kick was a non-starter. No one other than Forlan was able to pull off a free kick with any conviction (Jabulani????) and it made sense to indulge in passing than clearing the goal with fancy attempts but it still did not deter teams from attempting it.
7. The gap between the bigger and the smaller teams in increasingly reducing. The Asian Bloc gave a credible performance while Slovakia, Ghana, Uruguay and Chile provided unexpected excitement. France and Italy were knocked out remorselessly without even the pretense of a fight while England limped to the pre-quarters where Germany showed them their place (albeit with FIFA’s help).
My Tournament Favourites
Player(s): Iniesta, Xavi (Spain) and Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
Future Prospect: Thomas Muller (Germany)
Game: Germany 4-1 England (Pre-Quarter-finals)
Goal: David Villa (Spain v Honduras), Diego Forlan (Uruguay v Netherlands/Semi final)