It wasn't a great final, but I can't remember the last one that was. The only reasonably intelligent thing to say, in an opening paragraph, is that justice was done. When the Dutch testosterone levels finally descend, they will also see the truth of that observation, but it hardly needs me to make it.
The other point worth highlighting is that a World Cup victory is not really about the final, but about a team's ability to reach it and to then play to the strengths that they believe they possess. The Spanish fulfil the criteria of the previous sentence, having lost their opening game, but the Dutch do not. The latter deserved to be in the final, for employing a mixture of rough stuff with equal dollops of the quality that several of their players ineffably possess. Wesley Sneijder, has, for example, been one of the top five players in the tournament. So why employ him as the hod-carrier, as a hunting dog, in front of the watchful gaze of almost a billion people? Perhaps for one half of the game, but for the whole caboodle? It's difficult to comprehend, except that it worked against Brazil. Perhaps they thought it would work again.
It almost did – see Robben one-on-one against Iker Casillas - but somebody up there decided that it wouldn't have been fair. Casillas, under the spotlight both before the tournament and during its early stages for his allegedly casual attitude and lack of concentration, came up trumps in the end. He even managed to snog his journalist girlfriend, Sara Carbonero, in front of the nation as the poor woman, attempting to do her professional duty for the Tele 5 cameras after the match, asked him 'So Iker, how do you feel?' The goalkeeper, initially with a certain restraint, replied ¿Que quieres que te diga? (What the hell do you want me to say?) but then decided that enough was enough and planted a five-second snog on the poor woman, whose only reply to the amorous assault was Madre mía! (Oh my mother!). I'm sure mum was amused, back at home on the sofa.
Spain have been neither as fluent nor as convincing as their 2008 selves, but they are still worthy winners of the prize. They won for a variety of reasons, more of them perhaps defensive than offensive, curiously enough, but one of the factors overlooked by the press in general has been their collective temperament. In the past, Spanish sides have always looked capable of winning tournaments, only to fall prey either to their strange inferiority complex, their lack of cultural and political unity, or their tendency to lose their heads. The first two have been talked about a-plenty now, but the third not so much.
The Spanish, whose nickname is La Furia (The Fury), have always been able to dish out the rough stuff, or more importantly, to return it in equal measure when under fire. The idea, often apparent in the British media, that the Spanish "don't like it up 'em" is simply a lack of knowledge. What is true, however, is that the Spanish have fallen prey to intimidation in the past by losing their collective rags, losing their concentration, losing players and finally their matches. In Spain, it's a masculine rite to retaliate to violence. Anything less is considered suspicious behaviour. In this light, Spain's admirable restraint in the face of Holland's unseemly provocation was a major factor in their victory, and a deserved one at that. You will not necessarily win on football alone. Ask the Dutch team of the 1970s.
The Dutch readers of this website will also require this column to comment on Spain's own underhand tactics, such as pressuring Howard Webb and indulging in their usual repertoire of mini-theatrics. Andres Iniesta, the eventual match-winner, was one of the most guilty, but the way that he plays will always pull defenders into the trap. Like Arjen Robben (who would have escaped condemnation if he hadn't moaned so much) Iniesta is a 'vertical' player, one who always plays the ball close enough to a defender's legs at speed, in order to tempt him in. Once the leg comes in, Iniesta is away. If he's not away, he's on the floor.
It's difficult for a referee to judge, and Iniesta's little-boy-lost look encourages referees to protect him. But Iniesta is also trying to play football, not suppress it. As such, it was most apposite that he scored the wining goal. He finished it in the manner of his spectacular strike at Stamford Bridge, con todo el alma, (with all his soul), as the Spanish say. Even Spain's Queen Sofia, who normally behaves at a football match as if she is sitting resignedly in an electric chair, awaiting the voltage, jumped up and pumped the air in a most un-royal fashion, much to the delight of the TELE 5 commentators. Jose Antonio Camacho, who failed both as a player and a manager to ever enjoy this competition, burst into a manly roar with the immortal phrase Iniesta! Mi vida! (Iniesta! My life!).
A measure of the scorer is that at the moment of his apotheosis, he took off his shirt and dedicated his goal to Dani Jarque, the Espanyol player who died in August last year of heart failure at the age of 26. It was an extraordinary gesture, to a man with whom Iniesta had never even played. It summed up the Spanish squad, mystically united, more concerned with the collective than the individual, more focused on how your team-mates feel. There was never a murmur of dissent from the camp, backed up by a careful press policy to keep up the good vibes. The English and the French could learn from such behaviour, whether it strikes them as valid or not. And what is valid? Spain are world champions, but they were preparing the ground for two years. For a nation that is traditionally better on ideas than following them through, the squad showed a new meticulous side to the national character, an ability to plan, keep your head, and deliver.
I've been writing about Spanish football for almost twenty years now, and I always wanted to write that sentence above. I was getting fed up of all the 'dark horse' stuff, and so was everybody else. This is a fantastic morning, even up in the cloudy Basque Country. Nobody looks indifferent. Football is a weird phenomenon, but thank God somebody invented it.