Viva Espana – una victoria para el futbol!
July 12, 2010

Viva Espana!

Spain, already European Champions, justly won the biggest prize of all at the Soccer City Stadium in Jo’burg last night; an historic win for Spain but an even bigger victory for football.

There can be no argument that the tap pass  footballers of Spain deserved  their victory against the Dutch cloggers, and nobody more so than their diminutive goal scorer, Andres Iniesta, who so exemplifies the Spanish style of play.

Last night the memory of total football which Holland revealed to the world in consecutive 1970s finals, creating a legacy which subsequent Oranje teams have always striven to live up to, was tainted by the cynical pragmatists of 2010.     

There will be many in the Netherlands who will be devastated, not that they lost, but by the manner of their defeat. In a pre match interview we got a hint of what might be expected from the Dutch Master himself, Johan Cruyff.

Cruyff, an architect of the 1974 side, as well as a former player and coach with Barcelona, suggested he was less than impressed with the current Holland team’s style, commenting, “I am Dutch but I will always defend the football Spain play.”   

From the first whistle, Spain were the only team attempting to play football and assertions by Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk, in his post match interview, that, “ it’s not our style to play ‘ugly’ or commit horrible fouls” and, “ I don’t think the referee controlled the match well,” do him little or no credit.

English referee, Howard Webb, must have wondered what he had let himself in for. It was not his fault that he had to assume such a high-profile role in proceedings. The players from both sides, but particularly the Dutch, did not make it at all easy for him.

The previous highest total of yellow cards in a World Cup Final had been six. Webb reached into his top pocket for 13 yellows and finally, in extra time, a red for Holland’s John Heitinga.   

Holland could hardly complain. Arguably, they should have been down to nine men by half time. The chest high kick on Xabi Alonso by Nigel De Jong would almost certainly have been a sending off in any other game but a final!

Mark Van Bommel, who has been cruising for a bruising throughout the tournament, was also lucky to remain after he scythed down Iniesta.   

The Dutch tactics were uncompromising but unambitious. Press up on the Spanish, get in their faces, prevent them from settling into their usual metronomic passing game, pinch the ball and catch them on the counter attack through speedster Ayen Robben.

They needn’t have bothered though, the final result had been pre-ordained by the mystic mollusc. Was it Puyol or Paul the octopus who wrapped a restraining tentacle around Robben as he bore down on goal?

The tentacled tipster maintained his 100% record, correctly predicting 8/8 – a perfect octet of results for the octopus, who can now take early retirement squids in!   

En la familia Aldridge casa, the vuvuzela sounded its final celebratory blast of the tournament as captain Iker Casillas lifted the golden globe and the Spanish squad celebrated.

It was a victory for football purists everywhere and for a much relieved daughter who texted during extra time, “my nerves can’t take this any longer”. She should try watching Nottingham Forest some time!  

Enjoy your sweepstake winnings Gem – the San Migs are on you next time we meet!

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The bobby, the butcher & the octopus
July 11, 2010

Good luck to the English team in the World Cup Final!

Our footballers might not have made it to tonight’s final in Jo’burg’s Soccer City Stadium but England will be represented by the three-man team of match officials: Howard Webb, Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey.

Howard Melton Webb, the 38-year-old South Yorkshire policeman, will be the man in the middle. This will be the first time an English referee has been in charge of the World Cup Final since Jack Taylor, the Wolverhampton butcher, in 1974.  

English football supporters are not renowned for their tolerance towards the man in the middle but I hope on this occasion we will be willing our national representatives to come through the match with their reputations in tact. Webb has taken charge of three previous matches in the tournament, including Spain’s opening match defeat against Switzerland, without the need to brandish a red card or point to the penalty spot.   

Back in 1974, when the total footballers of Holland took on their German hosts in the Munich final, Jack Taylor was called into decisive and historic action after only one minute of play. A rash early challenge  brought the legendary Johan Cruyff down on the edge of the penalty area and Taylor had no hesitation in awarding the first ever penalty in a World Cup Final. Johan Neeskens converted the spot kick and everybody’s favourites appeared to be on their way.

As the ball was placed on the spot, the referee recalls that our old friend Franz ‘the Kaiser’ Beckenbauer, the German skipper, addressed him in an accusatory tone with the words, “Taylor, you’re an Englishman”. Ever the diplomat, Beckenbauer has never been short of a few words about the English, as we have heard in this tournament.  

There was no respite for Taylor in that game. Next he controversially denied Gerd Muller, Der Bomber, an equalising goal for off-side before awarding his second penalty of the match, this time for Germany, with just 26 minutes on the clock.

Germany went on to lift the trophy, winning the match 2-1. Paul Breitner stepped up to score the equalizing penalty and Der Bomber was  not to be denied, netting the eventual winner after 43 minutes. So it was quite an eventful first half for Taylor, now 80, who is still annoyed by suggestions that he awarded the Germans a soft penalty to even things up.  

It is often said that the best match officials are those who go unnoticed. Let’s hope Howard Webb and his assistants remain inconspicuous this evening, that the football flows and we get the  final to remember that this tournament badly needs.  If Spain can reproduce the passing game which they displayed against Germany  in the semi final we should not be disappointed. 

Off the field, the South African nation should be proud of what has been achieved but on the pitch too many matches have underwhelmed and too many top players have mis-fired. The dodgy Jabulani  has not helped and FIFA’s persistent refusal to embrace readily available technology to assist referees has ultimately embarrassed them on the biggest stage. 

Meanwhile, Paul the octopus has made his choice for tonight’s game and the bets have been pouring in for Spain!

We’ll see. I hope he’s got it right for Gem’s sake but the Dutch, of course, will have different ideas.