What We Learned From Spain vs Holland (1-0)

Will The Real Spain Please Stand Up

6 games in. One loss, three harshly ground out 1 – 0 results, not a lot of genuinely inspiring football played. The Spanish were the team that turned beautiful flowing football into a grim tactical war of attrition, barely raising themselves above the mundane in their previous matches. Following their loss to Switzerland, where their celebrated Tikki Takki pass the ball through the eye of a needle style had conspicuously failed to deliver results, they had seemed tentative at times, apparently going through a kind of crisis of confidence over the best route to win the World Cup. Meanwhile, the Dutch, whose football is inextricably linked to the Total Football style of Cryff et al, seem to have comfortably dispensed with their cultural heritage in favour of a more robust What The Hell It Works philosophy. Given this, which bunch of ‘cultured heavies’ would actually turn up and deliver on what should be the world’s greatest stage was anybody’s guess.

Astonishingly on the balance of the first 5 minutes or so, it seemed as though Spain had been restored to the immaculate side that won Euro 2008. They were awesome, showing the element of ambition and attacking flair that had been missing throughout their previous matches. Sergio Ramos, who is a bit of a diva, was outstanding, rampaging down the right and threatening to score after only 5 minutes. It seemed as though the intellectual torpor which had dulled most of the rest of the competition had been erased. Spain, it seemed, had no doubts and the Dutch would take a real pasting. It might not have been tikki takki, but it was fast, direct, intricate and exciting.

Now the Dutch have two World Cup faces. They have the 1974 Cryff team, the best Dutch team never to have won the World Cup, and they have the 2006 vintage as epitomised by the outstandingly ugly match against Cheating Diva’s Portugal side, where the tempo was set in the first few minutes when Boularouz gave the Diva a full on straight leg into the shin with a neat stud rake to finish as a ‘welcome to the World Cup’ gesture. For a moment it looked like there was going to be a debate about which style was going to take precedence. But in truth, there was never going to be any doubt.

If a team with genuine hopes of winning the World Cup has ever disappointed more, I can’t remember it. We don’t count the useless flotsam like Engerland, France or Italy, who never had a prayer of winning, or those with little or no genuine style like, well, Italy again who graced finals with little style but less expectation. But the Dutch. From the Dutch we expected so much more. Not that this team had really ever given us any indication that there was more, their contrast of Sneijder’s style and van Bommel’s thuggery not so much a blend as an assassination. They never really showed anything other than a blunt low grade desire to win ugly, or failing that to win uglier.

And so it went. The Spanish, as is their wont, had lots of the ball, the Dutch, as was their gameplan, were more than happy to bump, barge, beat and bludgeon them off the ball anywhere on the pitch as long as it wasn’t in their own penalty area. A typical move being, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass (over the halfway line at last), pass, clatter, foul. Cue free kick over the bar. As has become usual the robust defence allowed Spain little opportunity to attack and the lack of speed in their attack, bar the first few minutes, meant that there were almost no opportunities for real chances. Villa, the previous hero of Spain, was utterly insignificant throughout. Meanwhile, the Dutch were racking up the cards at a rate previously only seen in their ‘special’ Portuguese match (although it has to be said in their defence that neither Portugal, nor in this case Spain, were exactly angels themselves). Nigel De Jong’s chest high, studs up front kick into Alonso being something of a standout moment.

Now it wasn’t boring in the way that the classic ‘boring’ final of 1994 was, in this case there was the excitement of the first 5 minutes to recall, but it was a game where the creativity and elegance were thoroughly snuffed out. As the 90 minutes staggered to a conclusion, the only consolation was that there couldn’t be more than 30 more minutes of this until it was all over.

And when we woke up the Spanish had won.

64 Down 0 To Go, 1 World Champion

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