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That’s All Folks

by Dave Durbach / 12.07.2010

The month-long football orgy culminated last night in a spectacular closing ceremony starring Madiba himself, a moving occasion that did little to predict the bruising encounter that followed, with British ref Howard Webb dishing out no fewer than 14 yellow cards, more than double the previous record for a World Cup final.

Though Spain dominated passages of play, the match could’ve gone either way, and if it weren’t for a late goal, the tournament could’ve so easily been decided in the most ruthless of fashions, the penalty shoot-out. After a tight opening passage, the game opened up in the second half, with no shortage of opportunities coming to both sides. As time progressed, the match took on the tone of a heavyweight boxing tussle, one in which both fighters have ground their opponent to a pulp, but having done so, lack the energy to deliver the knock out punch, though not for lack of trying. Holland rued their missed opportunities, none more glaring than in the 62nd minute, when Arjen Robben found himself one on one with Spanish keeper Iker Casillas. The fleet-footed striker tried to tuck the ball into the corner, but for an outstretched Cassillas boot that prevented what should’ve been a regulation goal. Likewise, David Villa, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta and substitute Jesus Navas all missed out for Spain, while Robben (twice) and defender Joris Mathijsen could have put the Dutch in front.

It was defender John Heitinga’s second offence that reduced Holland to ten men late in extra time, which ultimately tilted the scales in favour of Spain. Minutes later, Andres Iniesta managed to hammer home a pass from Fabregas off a Fernando Torres cross to seal the Spaniards’ date with destiny.

After the match, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said that Heitinga’s red card had been crucial moment. “We did this to ourselves. I thought that with 10 players we would be able to make it right til the end, and with a fantastic goalkeeper in Maarten Stekelenburg. I had full confidence. It’s very sad, but its sport, and it’s harsh.”

Nevertheless he was full of praise for his team. “Nobody, I don’t think anybody would’ve expected us to be here, that we would’ve been playing in the final, and that we even came very close to a penalty shootout, that we could even have scored a goal through Arjen Robben… It’s very disappointing. We came so close. Of course you want to win it, and we could’ve won it.”

Robben’s missed chances turned out to be critical, he believed. “You could see this in the match, the team that would score the first goal would win the match. These moments of Robben could just as well have meant victory, but also the other way round for Spain. But unfortunately we were not lucky.”

As for the at times brutal nature of Sunday’s final, van Marwijk made it clear that this was not Holland’s original gameplan, and that his side weren’t the only ones to blame. “There were quite a few fouls on both sides, not only our side, but also from the Spanish. It’s not our style to commit horrible fouls. It’s not our kind of football. Just look at the rest of the tournament. I think both sides – also the Spaniards – committed terrible fouls… It’s still our intention to play beautiful football, but we were facing a very good opponent. Both sides committed fouls, and that may be regrettable for a final, but then again, one plays a match to win. It’s a World Cup final, and of course there’s a lot of emotion… So I would’ve loved to win the match, even with not so beautiful football.”

Andres Iniesta was named man of his match for his decisive goal. He was modest about his achievement. “I think I made a small contribution in a match that was very tough, very rough. There was all sorts of things happening on the pitch. I think Spain deserves to win this world championship. It’s something that we will remember, its something that we have to enjoy. And we are very proud of each of the members of this squad, from the first to the last.”

Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque also highlighted Robben’s misses, and the subsequent substitution of Xabi Alonso for Cesc Fabregas. “Our opponents made it very difficult for us to play comfortably,” he said. “I think as from Robben’s opportunity onwards, we were able to impose our game. When Fabregas came on, more or less after that opportunity of Robben’s, I think that then we began to dominate the game. We had greater ball possession, greater depth in our attack, there were very clear opportunities that we could’ve certainly converted.”

The mustachioed manager was reluctant to single out any individual performances, and said credit was due to his entire squad, as well as to their opponents. “If we didn’t play well, it’s because our rivals were better. To try to keep up with Holland at that pace for 90 minutes, that’s difficult. So my players were quite tired at the very end, but I think we dominated the match… Holland played a good game, so did we. It was very intense, very balanced, an even, tight match. Yes, it was rough at times, but that’s part of football.”

Del Bosque called this year’s World Cup “an extraordinary success for this continent We feel very proud to have taken part in this tournament. Football is going forward, and I think the reward today is for a beautiful game, for beautiful football.”

All images © Dave Durbach.

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