July 11, 2010


They Reign in Spain (MATTHEW FUTTERMAN, 7/12/10, WSJ)

Spain's win puts an exclamation point on the country's emergence as a sports superpower that began nearly two decades ago at the Barcelona Olympics. Until then, Spain had never won more than six medals in an Olympic games. In Barcelona it won 22, and since then the country has churned out athletes and teams that are now at the pinnacle of several sports.

Rafael Nadal is once again the preeminent tennis player and the leader of Spain's two-time defending Davis Cup champions. Pau Gasol is the second-most important Laker and led Spain's 2006 world championship basketball team.

Its cyclists have won the Tour De France, the world's most prestigious cycling race, three years running. Even its water polo team is an emerging power, taking silver last year at the world championships in Rome.

But in soccer, the sport closest to Spanish hearts, teams loaded with talent always disappointed when crunch time arrived.

With Fernando Torres unable to get healthy they really just have no cutting edge, no matter how easily they control possession. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to have the best goalie in the world.

Meanwhile, the Dutch are a disgrace--especially Van Bommel, Robben, and Van Persie.

Spain Wins World Cup in Tense Final Over Netherlands (Rahul Vaidyanath, 7/12/10, Epoch Times)

The first half was a disappointing. English referee Howard Webb handed out five yellow cards, four of which came in the first 22 minutes. Spain and Netherlands did not bring their “A-game.” Instead, they combined for 20 fouls.

Both teams did effective jobs at closing down spaces, pressuring the goalkeeper and defenses who seemed to have no answer for the pressure.

Nigel De Jong could have easily been sent off for a studs-to-the-chest foul on Xabi Alonso just before the half-hour mark.

The best scoring chance of the first half came in the fifth minute as Spanish full back Sergio Ramos gets a point blank header on target but Maarten Stekelenburg came up with a great reaction save.

Arjen Robben was the main threat for the Dutch. His speed was the key to unlocking the Spanish defense. But he was unable to finish his chances and never hesitated to complain bitterly to referee Webb.

The match actually became quite scrappy as the fouls continued into the second half. In the end, Netherlands accumulated seven yellow cards and Spain racked up six. John Heitinga also saw red for getting two yellow cards.

The plan for the Dutch seemed to be to stifle the Spanish possession game. They attempted to break it up with fouls and physical play.

Andrés Iniesta finds key for Spain to beat Holland (Kevin McCarra, 7/12/10, The Guardian)
An unforgettably ugly World Cup final ground its way to a penalty shoot-out, after offering cautions in place of goals. Holland were overwhelmingly the guilty party, with eight bookings to Spain's four. Although football was not wholly excluded, chances were shunned and the Spain right-back Sergio Ramos put a free header high from a corner kick in the 77th minute. A little later, Arjen Robben broke clear for Holland but Iker Casillas saved at his feet. The goalkeeper's team-mates had not been incisive enough until the very end.

The mayhem and nastiness of the occasion was an encumbrance for Spain, who will have visualised a wholly different type of game. It was potentially unsettling that victory should be seen as their destiny considering that they had never even reached the final before. Vicente del Bosque's side, for that matter, have developed a highly individual style founded on exceptional technique that exhausts and demoralises opponents as a midfield of supreme artistry confiscates the ball.

The flaw lies in the fact that possession can be an end in itself for Spain. European champions though they might be, the team began its World Cup programme in South Africa with a defeat by Switzerland. They went behind then and a single goal sufficed for the victors.

Spain fail to banish the demons of USA after Switzerland defeat: Switzerland emulated USA’s Confederation Cup tactics against Spain to shock the European champions. (6/16/10, Arsenal Column)
Did Spain lose to USA?

Yes, they did. 2-0 in fact, in the Confederations Cup and they are hoping, on a little-known Wednesday on the 24th of June 2009. Because, despite cantering to the semi-final of the tournament without breaking as much as a sweat, the tiki-taka football found itself unstuck by the American’s defensive doggedness and speed on the break. Those tactics, Vicente Del Bosque knows, are prone to being imitated by his World Cup opponents and just like an honour student with a failure in gym class, has tried to cover up the blotches on the grade sheet.

Del Bosque has brought in two defensive midfielders – Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets – to guard his side on moments of transitions. Fernando Torres, whose scoring record has in recent times been overshadowed by his strike partner, David Villa, is now not guaranteed a starting place. The double pivot allows Xavi freedom to get forward into the box while also providing protection for the full-backs who are now detailed to stretch play on either side, almost as wing-backs.

And in the first-half against Switzerland, Spain were relatively comfortable without being very penetrative themselves. They passed the ball back and forth across the pitch with much patience, looking to drag a Swiss defender out of position. Phillipe Senderos committed a series of fouls to indicate that a mistake was imminent. Only two in the end as Gerard Pique once again produced a magic in the opponent’s box akin to the Champions League semi-final but saw his shot fired straight at Diego Benaglio. David Villa got his golden opportunity but saw his chipped effort go disappointing wide. A goal was coming they thought, as Switzerland’s minds and legs would inevitably tire and Spain’s technical superiority would come out on top.

However seven minutes into the second period and the unthinkable happened. Switzerland broke through on the counter attack, Casillas came rushing out and from a moment of messiness, Gelson Fernandez was able to convert from amongst the wreckage. Suddenly that meticulous preparation has to be revised – time was not on their side any more and Spain had to find try to find a goal. Cesc Fabregas, usually Luis Aragonés’ Plan B, was not even summoned off the bench. Perhaps it had become blasphemy to take off Xavi as Del Bosque’s predecessor did on frequent occasions in Euro 2008. Certainly the Arsenal man has added power and dynamism to his game to be both a Plan A and a Plan B being able to seamlessly fit in to the endless triangle passing. Del Bosque usually experimented with a winger in the midfield four in the Confederation’s Cup, typically Albert Riera, but as the former Liverpool manager has indicated, the wide man had let his status in the national side get to his head. Jesus Navas’ introduction saw the Sevilla man fire in 19 crosses but without a target in the box, nothing materialised.

The unthinkable happened and much credit must go to Ottmar Hitzfeld for instilling a discipline and concentration in his side and ultimately doing what USA did against Spain. Switzerland were narrow and conceded the wings to La Roja because essentially there was only one to aim for and that was Villa.

Dirty Dutch whine over Webb 'bias' (Ian Ladyman, 12th July 2010, Daily Mail)
Holland coach Bert van Marwijk astonishingly accused English referee Howard Webb of being biased towards Spain after the Dutch tried and failed to kick their way towards World Cup glory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 11, 2010 4:46 PM
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