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Netherlands 0-1 Spain

When the luck finally ran out

July 12, 2010
By Ernst Bouwes
(Archive)

Most finals never manage to live up to their expectations and the one in Johannesburg was no different. A good thing then that we were involved and were sucked into our screens for more than two hours while the rest of the world looked on in despair.

Fans look on after Robben missed his chance
GettyImagesFans look on after Robben missed his chance

I watched the game in a group of about 20 people and no one complained about the lack of quality football. We knew, that should the final become a stylish display, Netherlands would definitely end up on the wrong side of the final score. Had they let Spain play their exciting passing football, we were bound for a drubbing of sorts.

The game turned into a foul fest with a shower of yellow cards, some of them closing in on red. What Nigel de Jong was thinking when he printed his studs in Xabi Alonso's chest? Hopefully not a lot. Referee Howard Webb let him off the hook. Most of his card-waving decisions were all right, if a bit one-sided.

Spain are much more experienced and gallant in their fouling, while the Dutch just clattered into opponents, leaving Webb little choice than to caution them. He had such a busy time administrating, that he overlooked a Dutch corner and a blatant obstruction from two Spanish defenders against Eljero Elia four minutes from the end. In the immediate counter-attack, the Dutch were always one step behind, leaving Iniesta to score the winner.

Netherlands did not play well as they were too busy disrupting the Spanish game. However, Arjen Robben had one big chance to score, but Iker Casillas saved the day. At the other end Maarten Stekelenburg had some miraculous saves, before luck eluded him in the end. Turning the game into a battle kept Netherlands in sight of the prise for a long time, but it may have been inevitable that they did not make it to penalties.

This World Cup campaign has shown a different side of the Dutch team. It may not be pretty to watch, but it proved to be successful. This is the football of the 21st Century. Why should our team be the one to put on a glamorous show for the viewers when others are stealing the prizes behind our backs? Our football is slowly taking on an Argentinean edge which mixes savvy and technical abilities with ruthlessness.

At the World Cup in 2006, the first steps of this transition got completely out of hand with a load of cards against Portugal. But this time they sensationally kicked out Brazil and Uruguay, who, in the past, might have been hurdles the team was unable to overcome.

Reaching the final was realistically the best the Dutch could achieve in South Africa. Spain just had a more balanced team with a clearer game-plan. Players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Pedro have all been schooled in Barcelona's cantera, their youth academy, which ironically has been set up on the football philosophy of our own Johan Cruyff.

The passing game suits them like a glove. The Dutch midfield just had to stand on their toes to keep up defensively, making their own build-up almost an after-thought. With Robin van Persie isolated up front and Robben continuously surrounded by two or three markers, there was little room to play attacking football.

Nigel de Jong plants his studs into Xabi Alonso's chest
GettyImagesNigel de Jong hit Xabi Alonso with a chest-high challenge in the World Cup final

The hope of the Dutch relied on good fortune as the team had not been unlucky with several of their goals during the tournament. While Spain often had to work tirelessly for 90 minutes to produce one meagre goal, the Dutch saw them flying in, sometimes to their own surprise.

The Danes started the ball rolling with an unfortunate header going in off the post, followed by flapping Japanese and Brazilian goalkeepers to culminate in several deflections of a Wesley Sneijder shot against Uruguay.

Few teams have scored so many by being on the good side of the bounce. Luck seemed to be on our side, but the final did not produce such a situation. Though you could say that Netherlands were fortunate enough to stay level for so long.

So what's next for the squad? Bert van Marwijk has shown to be the right man for the job as he managed to keep the group in harmony. It is a melting pot with egos like Sneijder, Rafael Van der Vaart and Van Persie who are all eyeing the playmaker's position in the team.

Van Marwijk did subdue all bickering and found the tactics for success. Big clubs in Europe might be interested in his signature. It would be good if the Dutch FA signs this coach for the next four if not eight years, as he will reach his pension in 2018.

Left-back Gio van Bronckhorst retires from the game this summer. He did extremely well, much better than we expected, and will be hard to replace. Such a defensive position is often frowned upon by the most talented Dutch players, so it could be that a winger slots into that position. Van der Vaart found himself in that role when Iniesta netted the winner, but hardly covered himself in glory.

With the exception of the ageing Van Bommel, the rest of the team is young enough to play at another World Cup. If he stays, Van Marwijk might fine-tune his midfield over the next years, hopefully with a bigger role for the striker. Van Persie did not really shine, as he is still learning to play in that position, but in two more years he might perform as a sort of Francesco Totti at Euro 2012. It might turn the Dutch into the excitables they once were.