Dé Céadaoin, Iúil 07, 2010

World Cup

Well justice was done in the Holland-Uruguay game, though we shouldn't overblow things here. Uruguay were nowhere near as evil as West Germany in 82, Argentina in 90, or Italy in any tournament they happen to be in. They played with heart and flair, not just cynicism and filth, and their game against the Netherlands was a classic.

I was riding a bus during today's game, but the replays on ESPN3 look like they could have come from any Spanish victory in the past four years. The Spanish national side gets compared to Barcelona a lot and it's easy to see why. Both are flowing, one-touch style teams with a mental toughness not usually associated with that style. Traditionally the formula for beating such "beautiful game" style teams has been to fluster them in a rough defensive dogfight; hit them on a brutally simple counter or two while they pass up one good chance after another in search of the perfect chance that a good defense will never let them have.

That's what killed the Dutch in 74 and 78, and it has also the main reason why Brazil has only five World Cups instead of ten. Soccer history is rife with pretty-looking attacking sides being upset by brutal tough guys in big games. This is why defensive Machiavellianism is the standard strategy in today's game, because it has proven itself to be the formula for winning trophies time and time again.

Yet, with the exception of Inter Milan in this year's Champions League, Barcelona has consistently beaten the bully strategy, and so has Spain, except for the Confederations cup against us last year and their opening game flub against Switzerland at this World Cup. Spain in fact has won four consecutive games by a single goal, 1-0 in the last three. This is the sort of robotic efficiency that historically only the Germans or Italians were capable of. This level of consistency is indeed nearly impossible in any sport, achieved only by a tiny handful of unloved and admired champions.

And good on Spain for pulling it off. It's good to see that attractive football need not necessarily be easily cowed or weak-willed. If La Roja and Barca continue to collect trophies they might be able to move the overall world game back in that direction, and that would be a wonderful favor to both the game and its fans.

I would also be happy for Holland if they won. I've long had a soft spot for Johann Cruyff and his merry band of Jesus Christ Superstar understudies. Though I am glad they won't get a shot at "revenge" against Germany. This is the WORLD Cup, and in that sense it's bad enough that both finalists are from Western Europe; but at least a Spain vs. Holland final is intriguing to neutral observers. The big Duetsch vs. little Dutch rivalry is just provincial and ugly, and those mean old Krauts always win anyway.

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