Thursday, July 15, 2010

From clogs of war to winsome whiners

From clogs of war to winsome whiners.The mystique surrounding the Netherlands took a severe battering in Soweto.

Eight yellow and one red card for two bookable offences were the proof the Dutch did not play the Beautiful Game at the World Cup Final.

Nigel de Jong's karate kick on Xabi Alonso will live long in the memory, as will the cheek of Mark Van Bommel in berating the match officials after a game in which he was lucky to even participate let alone stay on the field, following persistently rough challenges in both the semi-final and final.

Spain were no angels with five bookings themselves, but kept it cleaner than the Dutch, whose ugly approach brought back memories of Argentina in the final of Italia '90, having decided pre-game they could not beat their opponents with superior football.

This was not the brilliant orange of qualification but a rotten apple of a team in the end, taking the greatest stage of all to spoil and disrupt instead of triumph and entertain. Holland left its talent on the drawing board in favour of its studs and Nelson Mandela and the 17 heads of state in attendance must have been as repelled as the rest of the billion or so watchers worldwide.

That the Dutch chose the beast over beauty was a de facto betrayal of their heritage, a legacy the Spanish had cherished since Johann Cruyff's days at the Camp Nou and polished into a finished article called tiki-taka, which has now conquered the world.


The Netherlands used to be special in so many eyes, a small nation over-achieving at football thanks to a religious commitment to honing skill and intelligence in players and a tactical enlightenment which flowered most wondrously in their 'total football' of the 1970s. Ajax has been a beacon to the soccer world in its player development and it is a feather in their cap if their fans really do boo a 4-0 win achieved without panache.

All the respect built up over the years was shattered, perhaps irreparably, in Soweto, and the world may start to look elsewhere in future for the torch-bearers of the Intelligent Game, starting with the Dutch's vanquishers, Spain.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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