South Africa 2010 Match Observations: Championship Game

Some random observations after the final:

Netherlands 0-1 Spain: For the second straight game, Spain started with striker Fernando Torres on the bench and employed a 4-5-1 formation, as did the Dutch. Early on, Holland played a bit tentative while the Spanish probed the midfield looking for openings. Sergio Ramos had a couple of good early opportunities, one a good header off a free kick, but blew a breakaway opportunity on the other. After 15 minutes, Holland started to get more aggressive and physical. Five yellow cards early, but all were merited, as players on both teams were making silly late challenges and taking out opposing players. Nigel de Jong’s yellow could have been a red as he put his boot into the chest of Alonso who was up for a header. Neither team showed much sustained possession in the first half. Mathijsen had an excellent opportunity on a corner kick, but mis-hit the ball. He was serving the ball out of the defensive third very poorly as well. Mark Van Bommel, the Dutch enforcer, who already had a yellow card had several other challenges that could have resulted in another booking and expulsion from the game. The Netherlands finally got some pressure in the box in first half injury time resulting in a shot by Robben that forced Casillas to make a good save. The first half was ugly and clearly the Dutch turned up the physical pressure to take the Spaniards out of their game and it worked, though at the cost of many yellow cards. The Orange continued their physicality into the second and earned two more early yellow cards. Holland got Robben on a breakaway, but Casillas made a great save with his foot despite guessing wrong on the kick direction. Robben should have chipped over the goalie knowing Casillas would have to slide. The Netherlands harassed the Spanish midfield out of their usual possession passing game and the Spanish did not push the ball out on the flanks to open space. Midway through the second half, the game began to open up, likely because the Dutch had to back off the physical challenges for fear of losing a man and Spain amped up their pressure in response. David Villa got a couple of good opportunities, but could not convert and Sergio Ramos blew an unmolested header on a corner. Robben beat the Spanish defense to a through ball and was nearly taken down, but Casillas was able to slide into the ball before a shot was taken. Robben probably would have earned a free kick just outside the box if he had gone down when shoved by the defender, but goal scorers stay on their feet when they think they have a chance to beat the goalie. Despite the increased Spanish pressure, regulation time ended in the nil-nil draw. Neither team played particularly well in the first 90, as both looked too tight, passes were not crisp, and neither team used the flanks effectively.La Furia Roja began to put the petal to the metal in extra time. Cesc Fabregas broke free on a through ball early, but Stekelenburg made a great save. The Spanish then make a three-on-one break, but Iniesta, with the only defender on him, failed to give the ball up to either teammate open on his wings. The Dutch finally lost a player when John Heitinga got his second yellow, though it was probably the softest foul resulting in a booking. Spain was doing some acting in extra time trying to draw fouls. Shortly thereafter Holland gave up possession in its defensive third resulting in a perfect through ball to Iniesta on the right wing and he blasted it by Stekelenburg on a half-volley from 10 yards out with four minutes left. Spain fell into a protective defensive shell in the last few minutes and the Dutch could not find an equalizer. Overall, the game was not a beautiful game one would have hoped for. The Orange apparently decided that they could not match the Spanish possession game and tried to beat the Spaniards into submission. To their credit, Spain did not react in anger, but they also did not effectively use their flanks to open space in the middle. Both teams missed some excellent opportunities and had any of those found the back of the net, this could have been a much different and potentially better game to watch. Instead, both teams looked afraid to give up the first goal as the game progressed. Both teams are likely to be top seeds four years from now in Brazil. Until then, Spain deserves much credit for their consistently tough defense (no goals given up in the knockout rounds) and their ability to kick up the urgency late in games to find the winning goals. And for the next four years, Spain is your world champion.


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