Friday, July 9, 2010

the final is coming!!

The final is coming!!

Spain were brilliant against Germany, and should have had more goals to show for it. Germany, on the other hand, didn't play a great game for a few reasons. The first was the unfortunate absence of Muller, who was dubiously suspended for a second yellow card against Argentina. Trochowski, his replacement, doesn't have the same quality. The next reason was the rather poor play of Oezil, who had been, I think, Germany's best player so far in the tournament. He looked quite nervous from the start of the game, and never really settled. With his frequently botched touches and poor passes, Germany couldn't get much going forward.

And what about their tactics? It's hard to say whether they were pinned back unintentionally by Spain's possession and passing, or whether they sat back purposefully, looking to go forward on the counter. There was a stretch in the second half where Germany could hardly keep the ball for more than three passes, and you can hardly blame tactics for that. At the same time, I think they didn't quite push forward as much as they naturally would have, and were punished for it. It seemed that Schweinsteiger in particular limited his forays into Spain's half, and I think that was another factor in their lack of attacking bite.

Anyway, for reasons excellently echoed here, here and here, I'll be supporting Spain with all my heart and soul on Sunday. Any neutral, or football purist, should do the same. The Netherlands used to be my favorite team on the planet in the late 90's, playing the old Dutch style of "total football, "exemplified by players like Bergkamp, Overmars and Cocu. But that team is long gone, and though they still have great attacking players, they play a more defensive style. Nowadays, the mantle of beautiful soccer is carried on by Spain. As many have pointed out, Spain can thank the Netherlands of the past for its attacking style, since Johann Cruyff, the great Dutch player from 1974, brought total football to Barcelona, where it has for nearly two decades been a guiding principle, even more important than winning trophies. Spain's line-up Wednesday featured seven Barcelona players. From the midfield forward the only difference is Xabi Alonso for Lionel Messi (with that difference making Barca far superior of course).

Mark van Bommel, Netherlands' midfield enforcer, used to be a different type of player when he played at Barcelona, where he played as an attacking midfielder. In this tournament his most notable contribution has been to commit a lot of fouls, including a few really cynical ones against Brazil for which he was lucky to escape further punishment (remember him taking down Lucio right outside the penalty area with five minutes remaining?).

Other interesting notes for the final:

If Spain win, Xavi will surely win player of the tournament and world player of the year, finally. His first touch on the ball is stunning, and his passing is nearly perfect. He can receive the ball in any position, and thus he is able to get more touches, and completes more forward passes, than any other player. Iniesta is the only other midfielder who's within a stone's throw in terms of quality, and their only real weakness as players is their finishing. What's most remarkable is that they are the two best midfielders in the world without having a single notable physical characteristic: neither is tall, fast, strong, or even especially quick. They're just damn good with the ball at their feet.

If the Netherlands win, then Wesley Sneijder will probably win World Player of the Year. He's an excellent player, and a good goalscorer too, but he can't control a match the way Xavi and Iniesta do, as we'll all see on Sunday.

David Villa has likewise received a lot of praise this tournament, with good reason: without his finishing ability, Spain would be a bunch of playmakers with no chance at ever scoring. But though he's been excellent in general, he owes most of his chances, and the general tempo of every match Spain plays, to his midfield compatriots. He was also far from his best in the semifinal, and was duly substituted with a few minutes remaining.

I hope, and expect, Spain to start the same way they did against Germany, with Pedro again playing in favor of Torres. Pedro, another Barca man, was energetic and ever-threatening against Germany, despite his one unfortunate decision in the 85th minute or so, where he made a terrible decision in a 2 on 1 counterattack. Still, he's well worth another start.

I expect the game to be a lot like all of Spain's games in the tournament: they'll possess the ball and pin back the Netherlands, who will defend with everything they've got, and make rare attacks. But Spain will find a way through. final score 2-0.

Come on Spain!!!!


  1. No pity for the long-suffering Dutch?? Ach, you're a cruel man ...

  2. Sam: Below is a line from the Slate piece to which you linked. So what is the difference between Spain/Barca beautiful football and what was Dutch total football? Once the dust has settled post-big-game, maybe you could explain for us soccer naifs. Here's the line:
    "Spain's tiki-taka soccer—inexorable passing, patient build-up play, constant pressing on defense—isn't much like total football. . ."