Congrats to Spain and the Netherlands. You've both played pragmatic, quality if less than spectacular football against top opponents. The Spanish for their part have won each of their knockout games 1-0, breaking down the staunchest of defenses in the Portuguese and Paraguayans and stunting the potent attack of the Germans through relentless possession and pressure. Holland took care of upstarts Slovakia, top-ranked Brazil and Uruguay with determined, disciplined performances highlighted by the play making abilities of Wesley Sneijder and Giovanni Van Bronckhurst's upper 90 goal of the tournament. Now either the Spanish or Dutch squad will take home the World Cup (more on said "cup" in a moment) for the first time, basking in the glory of a well deserved title while simultaneously tossing aside the Mickelsonian label of "best team never to win the big enchilada". Even the Dutch sides of the 70's, total football, Johann Cruyff and all that were unable to capitalize on two trips to the finals. To be fair they played the home team both times, surrendering an early lead to Gerd Mueller Germans' in Munich in '74 and falling in extra time versus the Argentinians in the Confetti Bowl of '78. They did win a European championship in 1988 with the equally stylish play and looks of Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and company. Spain too have experienced continental success, twice, in fact, 1964 and two years ago with the same group of players due to walk out at Soccer City on Sunday.
So in the battle of Gouda versus Manchego who wins? I don't know, clearly I'm not much good at predicting these things (see previous post) but I expect that Madrid will be the happier capitol on Sunday night. There's simply no denying that the Spanish have imposed their style throughout the tournament. David Villa is the ultimate poacher of goals, the man makes opportunities appear from the smallest of spaces neglected by a defense. Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso pull the strings through the midfield in the passing give and go orchestration that has defined their play. Does it make for jogo bonito? Personally I'm not a fan, particularly when few scoring opportunities and fewer goals come as a result. On occasion it looks like their too concerned with putting together the perfect play, threading passes together around the 18 yard box even when obvious shots present themselves. There is merit in the skill, the displays of ball control and the smarts of these players in their off the ball movement but the games themselves can lull into a siesta like rhythm. I would prefer to see the piercing ball, the run behind defenders, a hint of a smile on Vicente del Bosque's face, alas this is probably much too much to ask for. Then again, maybe the Dutch will score first and force the game open, now that would be a treat for all 6 billion of us that will be watching.
Awaiting the winner is easily the most anti climatic prize in the sports world
(that picture is actual size). Having vanquished 7 teams over the previous month and an untold number over the previous 2 years in qualifying your bounty is the World Cup Trophy. 14 inches short and 13.6 pounds of solid 18-carat gold, designed by an Italian named Silvio Gazzaniga, his design was deemed the replacement for the equally uninspiring Jules Rimet Cup which Brazil retained after their 3rd World title in 1970. I believe that might be the first and only mention of Silvio Gazzaniga in the blogosphere for the record. The Stanley Cup that's a trophy, the big serving plate at Wimbledon that's cool, my fantasy football league has more impressive looking trophy (and of course the laurel wreath to really drive home the Greek god-like stature). This "World Cup", the sculpted player celebrating victory whilst holding up the globe strangely resembles Leonardo Di Caprio at the helm of the Titantic has got to go the way of the dodo. Germany, Argentina, Italy and Brazil have each won it twice since 1974, next one to win a third title can take it home and put it up for permanent exhibit. Let's redesign this thing. Let's give these teams, these countries, the World something worthy of a champion.