After a solid month of frenetic international soccer, the World Cup ended with Spain’s 1-0 defeat of Holland on Sunday. Watching the game at a jam-packed BW3, I couldn’t help but think of how this displays wasn’t exactly a scintillating endorsement for the sport. Plenty of flopping, diving, and ugly tackling, and not nearly enough creativity or swashbuckling offense. Prior to the game, Alexi Lalas optimistically predicted a 3-2 shootout. And of course this is what we got:
Nigel De Jong, you may recall, is the same a$$hole who broke U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden’s ankle in the March warmup match in Amsterdam. Meanwhile, Mark Van Bommel was laying down the law like Van Damme on Red Bull, and the referee seemed determined to avoid sending anyone off before halftime. If ever a match was screaming for a first half red or a quick goal, it was this one.
Many have lamented the Dutch strategy of attempting to kick the Spaniards into submission; many more have lamented the Spanish flair for collapsing, faking, and generally falling down at the slightest of contact. Dan Loney sums it up better than most. Basically, he states, you can’t expect teams to really play in a World Cup Finale – it’s simply too big, with too much pressure, and too many watching across the globe. Others have noted how we haven’t had a well-played and exciting championship game since 1986, when Argentina defeated West Germany in Mexico City. Shouldn’t come as too much of surprise that this match resembled the most recent Lakers-Celtics series: Superbowls, NCAA Championships, and World Series often suck for aesthetics. The only recent exception I can think of is the Gold Medal Hockey game in Vancouver.
On some level, I was glad for Spain’s victory as they were a) less cynical, b) stayed true to their gameplan and strategy, and c) were clearly the better team. Still, it’s too bad so many have been discussing the merits of the match and the Netherlands’ kung-fu stylings instead of lauding the Spanish. This makes them champions of the two biggest international tournaments (including the 2008 Euros) consecutively, and for the rest of us it’s somewhat frightening that the vast majority of their best players will be around for many years to come. It’s also worth noting that they won the World Cup with their supposed best striker, Fernando Torres, looking like a shadow of his former self.
At work, people have asked me repeatedly if I’m sad the World Cup is over. Of course I’m sad. It only comes around every four years, for the U.S. it takes 2.5-3 years to qualify, and there’s literally nothing else like it in sports. But it was a lot of fun, and a great accomplishment for South Africa, and only added to my determination to be there in person for Brazil 2014. The U.S. Team built some momentum that can only increase soccer’s profile in this country.
Plus we all have one hell of a shared memory from this one, don’t we…