An ugly end to a beautiful tournament! These were my first thoughts after watching Casillas hold aloft the glittering FIFA World Cup on Sunday night. As much as Spain deserved the honours, given the sheer talent and skills the team possessed, the final against the “ugly Dutch” (to quote Cruyff), was one of the worst games of the tournament. As a contest, it was a flop show, unworthy of the occasion and a great injustice to the Rainbow Nation, which had worked so hard to put on a memorable show.
Spain delivered but did not always entertain. That they lost their opening game to Switzerland and then scored a mere eight goals in the next six games only reflected the quality of their finishing that, despite the likes of Villa and Torres, left a lot to be desired. However, Spain had no peers in organization, passing and team work. Their focus was on winning matches and, ultimately, that counted for everything.
The World Cup 'Dream Team'
Spain came into the World Cup on the back of their Euro 2008 success and as one of the hot favourites. They lived up to the billing in great style and the success was a tribute to their faith in their game plan that never wavered regardless of the opponents. If Spain could be faulted at all, then it is their pre-occupation with weaving pretty patterns that only helped them keep possession to dominate, but did not necessarily fetch goals.
In my book, Spain’s best effort was against Germany in the semi-finals that personified the strength, character and the sublime individual skills of La Roja. So well did Spain perform in that game that the youthful German side that had crushed England and Argentina in the previous rounds, were reduced to being willing subjects of a benevolent Emperor.
Although Villa topped with five goals for Spain, it was the likes of Puyol, Iniesta, Ramos and Xavi besides Casillas, who stood out. The goals by Puyol and Iniesta in the semi-final and final, respectively, ensured that Spain took home the World Cup for the first time, while Xavi was a dominant figure in the midfield.
As for the Dutch, they were condemned to finish second best for the third time. Forget Robben and his ilk, for the Netherlands allowed the occasion to get the better of them in the final. In fact, it was their shocking and crude exhibition of muscle power that drove the Dutch to the point of distraction. So much so that the final degenerated into a street fight with Spain dragged into the gutter. Referee Webb all but lost control of the game and some of his decisions only aggravated the on-field situation.
On the subject of refereeing, I would say that the 2010 World Cup will be long remembered for the blunders of the whistle-blowing officials who were rather ham-handed and far too liberal with the cards. Webb himself flashed the yellow card 14 times and one of them led to a send-off in a game that saw 47 fouls over two hours!
Looking further back, the premature exit of Brazil, Argentina, France, Italy and England, followed by Germany in the semi-finals, ensured the emergence of a new world champion, albeit only the eighth since the inaugural edition in 1930. Uruguay had their chances against the Dutch, but could only end up fourth, a small consolation for the Americas.
FIFA World Cup
The African teams, especially Ghana, showcased their potential, but like their Asian counterparts, fell short in finesse and execution. The same could be said of Paraguay, Australia, the United States, Chile and of course, New Zealand, the only unbeaten team in the World Cup.
In conclusion, the 2010 World Cup was no different from the previous tournaments that saw the eclipse of established stars and the birth of new ones. While the top teams were a collection of stars, only Spain managed to get it all together to put the team above individuals, as it should be.
The last word should be reserved for South Africa for playing gracious hosts and dispelling all pre-tournament concern over security and organization. A few muggings notwithstanding, the Rainbow Nation put on a show fit for royalty.