World Cup 2010: Why there was more than one winner
I’ve been following Dutch Football since the first time I became cognizant of what a World Cup means, in 1998. The one thing every World Cup has had in common is that the Netherlands and Spain are two teams who have traditionally had issues of performance on the world’s greatest stage; perennial losers that never achieved what their true potential could have afforded them.
The Final of the 2010 World Cup forever changed all of that, for both the teams.
I could go off on a rant about missed chances, but each team had their fair share of those. We could talk about how controlling nerves is the key to lifting the world cup, but I don’t believe that anymore. The final is about big game players and I struggle to think of one who didn’t fit that bill after the 120 minutes of football that was played in Johannesburg.
It was an open game, with both sides trying to pressure the other into a mistake, one that never really came. The officials’ calls were all fairly accurate, although I am a big believer in the idea that officials are bound to get one call wrong per game as they are, like the rest of us, mere mortals. I am referring to the red card that Spain managed to create out of what looked like a pretty light challenge. However, one call doesn’t change a game in which both sides have 120 minutes to play. For anyone that has a greater intellectual understanding of the game, it is not worth blaming the referee for this outcome. No excuses.
I talked about big game players earlier and full credit should go to Andres Iniesta. One shot, one kill and that too off a half volley in the dead of extra time; a defenders boot, five centimeters from where the ball left his foot, and a hand movement from Skeltenburg that was less than a quarter of a second too late. Anyone, no matter whom they were supporting, should be able to appreciate the small speck of light that existed between the two teams if that is what was required to separate them. The ultimate vindication is that perhaps, the best two teams really did make it to the final of this World Cup.
This is the world cup; the story of 32 teams that played for years to get here and two months to decide who the world’s best would be. A thing of beauty, drama and skill. For it to be decided by dead ball shots is an insult to the very idea of what makes the game great. That it ended in extra time is, in my mind, the greatest compliment to the game of football, that we did not have to decide the worlds greatest sporting prize over penalty kicks is an honor to the team that lifts the golden trophy of dreams.
To Spain’s credit, though they were uncharacteristically wasteful especially on set pieces, they managed to hold it together and pounce on the door before it closed on their hands into the vortex of uncertainty that is life after extra time. It was a clean strike, off a brilliantly strung together pass that beat an offside trap and broke the hearts of an army of Orange fans across the world. Well done and whole heartedly deserved.
As for the Netherlands, they came into the game with nothing to lose and though they were heavy handed in the midfield, there are only so many ways to contain the Spaniards smooth flowing game. Honorable mention should go to Mark Van Bommel, whom I feel has been much maligned this World Cup for all of the wrong reasons; mainly owing to the position he plays and the responsibility therein to halt play when necessary, which whether you like it or not is part of the game.
Though in my mind, no star shone brighter than that of the captain Van Bronckhorst who saved countless attempts at the goal and allowed Skeltenburg no more tension than he deserved to receive. His legacy is a strong Dutch side that still has enough years in it for another attempt at greatness, through what will have to be a completely reformed system. More than anything else though, he left the pitch on a high note and will forever be remembered as one of the greatest Dutch backs to have steered the Orange to countless victories in the World Cup and for taking them all the way to the final.
As for the Spaniards, their victory proves a point that should shake the foundations of the kind of football that Jose Mourhinio prescribes to. I spoke of more than one winner on the pitch when the curtains came down and I’ll explain.
Football is a game of grace, skill and team play. Not a game of containment, throwing players into the box to defend and counter attacks. That might be the golden ticket to winning leagues and the European crown but not the greatest prize in World Football. The aforementioned tactics of the ‘Special One’ are all parts of the game, but not what makes it great and that is the reason why I truly believe that there was more than one winner on the pitch when the final whistle blew. In fact there were two, World Football and Spain. In that order.
Goodbye South Africa and thank you for the memories because that, ladies and gentlemen, was the end of an incredible World Cup. No head butts, no hard feelings and on some level, no outright losers.
This post originally appeared here.