Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup 2010 Game 64: Spain 1, The Netherlands 0

It was, as one announcer said on ABC, "an ill-tempered final."

Blame it on the Dutch, mostly, who were trying to do what Germany, Paraguay, and others had failed to do: beat Spain by playing ugly soccer.

Spain becomes the first team to win the World Cup after losing its opening match, and perhaps the Swiss have to share a portion of the blame for the strategy of teams that followed, since they laid the blueprint for how a team with inferior talent could hang with, and ultimately beat, the mighty Spaniards.

If I was not surprised that some followed suit, color me a bit surprised that Germany and Dutch appeared to go away from what got them to where they were. I wouldn't think they would concede to themselves that the Spaniards were THAT much better than them. Spain has only lost twice in its last 26 matches, and the other team to beat them, The United States, laid out a different plan (in last year's Confederations Cup) taking the fight to them and scoring early. Traditional logic says that the later the game goes to 0-0 the more the edge tilts towards the lesser side since penalty kicks are a toss up. Yet when a team plays to get to penalty kicks, they also minimize the mistakes they can make. They need to be near perfect.

Holland did have a good chance in the first half with a ball split down the middle (glad to see that doesn't only happen against the U.S.), and the goalkeeper made a solid play diving one way but getting his feet out to deflect the shot that went the other. Spain also missed a golden opportunity late in regulation when an unmarked header went wide.

FIFA was spared controversy on the scale that had marked some of the games, but there were stretches, especially in the second half, where tactics became to dive to the ground at any contact and hope that the attrition of yellow cards would culminate in someone being sent off. The Dutch did lose a player early in the second overtime for a pull just outside the box. The player was unimpeded to the goal, so it pretty much had to be a mandatory yellow (and since it was the second, a man down for The Netherlands), but it was ironic that the foul itself was garden variety given the chippy stuff that had been played all game long.

We've seen a few brilliant strikes of the ball in this cup, but this was one of those very nice (if a little ragged) build ups with multiple players touching the ball as it went from end to end and side to side. The goal itself was a crossing strike off the bounce, and while it was not quite as spectacular as Forlan's similar strike in the 3rd place game, given the time in the game and the stakes, it was a pretty impressive goal.

A couple of other notes. Spain set the record for fewest goals scored by a champion. The previous lowest cumulative goals had been 11 or 12, while Spain found the back of the net only eight times in seven games. an average of 1.14 goals per game. To put that in perspective, that's actually LESS than the U.S. average of 1.25 goals per game and doesn't extrapolate for the fact that the U.S. had a goal disallowed and Spain scored two of its goals in bonus time in the knockout stage (which wouldn't be played in pool play).

It's tempting then to suggest that the U.S. needs to focus on better defense despite the fact that it had trouble settling on strikers and had no goals by strikers. Really, though, teams of Spain's level can make chances (albeit fewer ones) against the best defenses, so its more about not giving away chances. Some of that may be communication, and it was telling to me to hear that seven of Spain's starting 11 players play in the same city. It's the classic debate--break up players to help them develop talent at the highest level or derive the benefits of coherence and playing together.

Depth is another key difference. Having watched every game of the World Cup one thing I noticed was how on the best teams different players impressed in different games. In the final David Villa (tied for the golden boot) was quieter, but Xavi was relentless, controlling the ball and making probing pass after probing pass. Only Brazil seemed to have as many different players to step up.

Congratulations to Spain for its first ever World Cup title. They were the best team throughout and deserved to hoist the trophy.

Wow, watching every single game of the World Cup was harder than I thought.

No comments: