World Cup final – Match Report: Holland 0-1 Spain

It certainly won’t go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest World Cup finals; nonetheless, it was a triumph for football as Spain became World champions for the very first time. In doing so they become only the third side to hold the Euro and World Cup titles at the same time – a feat which was previously achieved by Germany in 1972/1974 and France in 1998/2000.

We nearly had to go right down to the wire to find our winners but Spain found their required bit of magic to hold-off the Dutch in the end when Andres Iniesta stepped up his game found the back of the net in 116 minute of the game.

From the off, Holland knew what they were doing. They had obviously watched back Spain’s semi-final victory over Germany and saw that the Germans laid off the Spanish far too much – thus doing the opposite, taking the game to Spain – attacking them and pressingly highly up the field.

By the same token, so did Spain but the Dutch back four worked the offside trap very well with David Villa being caught offside many times in the first-half. Spain’s best chance of the half came in the fourth minute – Ramos was fouled on the right wing – Xavi floated in the resulting free-kick which met the head of the aforementioned Ramos, his powering header forced a great save from Stekelenburg in the Dutch goal.

Up until the 14th minute the football was free flowing – then referee Howard Webb dished out the first yellow card of many to Robin Van Persie, one could say it went downhill from there. Carles Puyol, Mark van Bommel, Sergio Ramos and Nigel de Jong had all found their way into Webb’s book before half-time. As it began to look inevitable that we would see a red card before the night was out.

Webb was clamping down of these cynical fouls, but he could have done a lot more and indeed a lot better. The only route to goal for either side looked to be from a set-piece. Holland managed to cancel out Spain’s early chance in the closing minutes of the first-half – Arjen Robben testing Iker Casillas who was alert, as always.

In truth it was a poor quality first-half, it certainly wasn’t a captivating one at all, if you were expecting goals then immediately this game was not for you. As the second-half began Spain were on the attack right away. Carles Puyol, who scored the goal that helped them reached the final, had a header from a corner which fell to Joan Capdevila who totally miss-kicked it.

Once again, after the break the cards began to build up, Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst and team-mate John Heitinga found their way into the book – after yet more cynical fouling – Capdevila and Robben also had their names taken in the second-half as the total number of bookings hit nine.

Easily, the best chance of the game fell to Holland just after the hour mark – Arjen Robben received a through-ball from Wesley Sneijder down the middle, he managed to beat Pique and get in front of him before going one on one with Casillas, who saved with his leg. He later had a similar chance which was also saved by Spain’s man of the match for me – Iker Casillas.

Spain also managed a chance and went very, very close when Sergio Ramos – totally unmarked in the Dutch penalty area headed clean over from seven yards. Another chance wasted. Both sides felt the need for change, as Pedro, was replaced by Jesus Navas, while the Dutch shuffled the deck taking off Dirk Kuyt and bringing on Elijero Elia.

As full-time approached, Spain felt the need to make another substitution as Xabi Alonso made way for Cesc Fabregas – only on the field a matter of minutes and the Arsenal man forces another great save from Stekelenburg. After 90 minutes it ended as we started – all square and as extra-time begun there were many tired legs on the field.

The sides continued the trend of cancelling one another out when Joris Mathijsen went close from a corner, but like many before him, he headed clean over without testing the keeper.

As penalties were beginning to look an inevitability, the two teams made further changes in extra-time – de Jong and van Bronckhort both went off for Holland and were replaced by van der Vaart and Braafheid, while Spain took the risk of substituting David Villa and brought on Fernando Torres.

The inevitable red-card came in the 109 minute when Heitinga, who had been booked previously, pulled back Iniesta on the edge of the area. Harsh? No. He can have no complaints for being sent-off, it was deserved. Four more yellow cards were dished out in this period – van der Wiel, Mathijsen, Xavi and Iniesta the offenders in this round.

However, the latter card was given to Iniesta for removing his shirt during the celebration of the goal. Just when it looked as if we were heading to a penalty shoot-out, Spain found the back of the net with just four minutes remaining in extra-time.

Torres, Fabregas and Iniesta were all involved in the build-up but it was the latter who found the net – an instinctive pass from Fabregas found Iniesta who was onside and round the back of the Dutch defence before slotting it into the bottom left corner of Stekelenburg’s net and as they say – the rest is indeed history.

It was Spain who re-wrote history last night. They became the first team to lose the opening game and still go on to lift the trophy. Seven names were already upon the World Cup roll of honour – Uruguay, Italy, Germany, Brazil, England, Argentina and France who have all previously etched their name into history, and now Spain can become the eight member of that elite club.

Many will agree, that over the past two years Spain have been, by far the best team in the world and last night proved that. Some may not like the way they play at times, but you can’t really please everybody. So, as the World Cup draws to a close for another four years – Spain have finally lifted the tag of perennial underachievers from around their neck and become the winners of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.


World Cup final – Preview: Spain vs. Holland

After 63 games over the last four weeks, we have finally made it to the all important one – The World Cup final where Holland ranked fourth in the world; take on current European champions Spain tonight at Soccer City.

‘Tiki-taka’, praise for Spain and criticism from Shearer.

“We have the same idea as each other. Keep the ball, create movement around and off the ball, get in the spaces to cause danger” Xabi Alonso – in one simple sentence really sums up the way the Spanish team play. Everything they do is perfect – smooth, short, sharp, quick and decisive passes or as it is more formally known in Cataluña – tiki-taka.

The coach of beaten semi-finalists and third-placed play-off winners Germany, Jogi Loew was humble in defeat and had nothing but praise for this Spanish side. “Spain are a wonderful team. They are the masters of the game. You can see it in every pass”

Alan Shearer, a man who is not renowned for his analytical skills proclaimed after the game against Slovakia “Dutch – Nothing spectacular. Reliant on the front two or three”. Surely if he was to look back on that quote now he would be embarrassed – it is Shearer, so probably not. Hopefully, he will have some great tactical insight tonight – I wonder will he have done a u-turn in regards to the Dutch?

Shaking off the underachievers tag

Always the bridesmaids and never the bride is an analogy that is true for both teams and while Spain may have shaken off that tag when they won Euro 2008, one of them will be walking down the aisle on tonight to lift that World Cup trophy shaking off the tag of perennial underachievers forever.

Holland have had an extra days rest ahead of tonight’s final, and they will have needed that extra day because, if Spain play the way they have in previous matches in this tournament – dominating possession – then the Dutch could well be chasing the ball for 90 minutes.

Nigel De Jong and Gregory Van der Wiel will likely return to the starting line-up having missed the semi-final victory over Uruguay through suspension. While Spain could very well named an unchanged line-up to the one that beat Germany – it will all depend whether Del Bosque sticks with Pedro or decides to bring Fernando Torres back into the fold.

Impressive records – history to be made

Holland are already unbeaten in their last 24 games and they have racked up 14 successive wins in both qualifiers and WC games. The Oranje are bidding to become the first side since Brazil in 1970 to win all their qualifying game and triumph in all seven games at the final.

Spain – ‘La Furia Rojas’ record is even more impressive – in their last 54 games they have only been beaten on two occasions, winning 49 and drawing three – one of the defeats being  to Switzerland at the very start of this World Cup and the other a defeat to the USA at last year’s Confederations Cup. In the process they have scored 118 goals, but at this tournament they have scored just seven, while the Dutch have scored 12.

If Spain win the World Cup tonight, they will become only the third side to hold the Euro and World Cup titles at the same time – previously done by Germany in 1972/1974 and France in 1998/2000.

The game against Germany was Spain’s first ever World Cup semi-final, and they overcame that hurdle with flying colours to reach the country’s first ever World Cup final. Holland on the other hand, have reached this stage before – twice. However, this is their first final in 32 years after being beaten in both their two previous finals of 1974 and 1978 – Could this be third time lucky for the Oranje?

Holland are the only unbeaten team right throughout this World Cup apart from New Zealand who bowed out in the group stages after three draws. You could say that the Dutch have already contested their very own World Cup final when they overcame Brazil in the quarter finals coming from behind to salvage a 2-1 victory.

Swansong for van Bronckhorst

Holland’s 35 year old captain – Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who will be winning his 106th cap is hoping that this will be his swansong having announced that he will retire after the final: “The last game in my career and it’s a world cup final, what can you say? It could not be more beautiful.” A beautiful ending to a beautiful game – now that is all that we want.

The (English) officials

No doubt that they ITV commentators will be happy to know that there will be an English presence in the final – Howard Webb and his assistants Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey who right throughout this World Cup have consistently performed will have the pleasure of officiating on tonight’s final. Webb is the first Englishman since Jack Taylor in 1974 to referee a final. He will also become the first official to oversee both the Champions League final and the World Cup final in the same season.

Whose name will be going on the trophy?

Personally, I have stuck by both sides from the off and have money riding on this game, despite this I am not favouring any one side tonight, so I will be happy no matter who wins. If Spain play the way the play in previous games, in particular the one against Germany then their name will be going on the trophy – likewise with Holland, if they play the way they did against Brazil, it will be theirs.

Seven names are already upon the World Cup roll of honour – Uruguay, Italy, Germany, Brazil, England, Argentina and France have all etched their name into history and on Sunday night one more side join that unique club – will it be Spain or will it be Holland?

THoAR’s top three goals of the World Cup

1. Maicon –  (BRAZIL vs. North Korea)

Did he mean it or didn’t he? Well, that was the question on everybody’s lips at the time and even now it is hard to decide whether Maicon meant it or not. It certainly doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a fantastic goal. An insightful pass from Elano found Maicon overlapping on the right wing before shooting from an impossible angle on the touchline to score. Reminiscent of his fellow countryman – Roberto Carlos’ impossible goal.

2. Keisuke Honda – (Denmark vs. JAPAN)

Right throughout this tournament there have been complaints about the much maligned World Cup ball – the Jabulani, but those criticisms should have been put to bed when Keisuke Honda struck this inch perfect free-kick for Japan to send them into the last 16. Words can’t even describe it – so, check out the video below.

3. David Villa – (Chile vs. SPAIN)

Villa has scored so many great goals at this World Cup, I, so easily could have picked that cracker in the game against Honduras, but I feel that this does the Barcelona man far more justice. Chile keeper Claudio Bravo comes off his line to clear the ball from Fernando Torres – he doesn’t clear it far enough and it falls to Villa, who shoots from about 45 to 50 yards out to score. Another goal the justifies the Jabulani – if you strike it correctly then you should have no problems scoring with it.

Please feel free to leave your comments below, I am aware that there are more goals worthy of being added to the list, my these are my personal three, so you are well within you rights to agree or disagree with my choices.

Match Report: Germany 0-1 Spain

The second semi-final of the World Cup saw Spain face Germany in Durban for the chance to play The Netherlands in Sunday’s showpiece finale. Vincent Del Bosque signalled his intent by naming troubled striker Fernando Torres on the bench, he was replaced by Pedro who promised attacking flair as well as adding width and allowing in-form David Villa to lead the forward line. Germany came into this game without Thomas Muller, one of the stars of the tournament but with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger to compensate in midfield their impressive performances of late had every chance of continuing.

Spain had the majority of the early possession and the inclusion of Pedro almost paid dividends, the Barcelona man played a great through ball behind the German defence but David Villa’s shot was straight at the advancing Neuer, who saved well. Germany looked a little rushed going forward in the opening exchanges while Spain continued in their methodical, patient, probing style. Following a half cleared corner Iniesta whipped in a ball from the right flank but Carlos Puyol couldn’t control his effort and headed over the bar, that was a real chance for the centre back and he should have done better.

The way the Spanish side controlled the ball and restricted the German midfield from stamping their authority on the game as they had done against England and Argentina was impressive. Despite having the majority of possession, real chances were few and far between though, the final ball eluding Del Bosque’s side. When Germany did venture forward Trochowski tested Casillas from range but the Spanish captain dealt with the shot well, turning it behind for a corner which came to nothing.

Casillas showed his agility at numerous points in the first 45 minutes, punching confidently several times and clearing his lines at each time of asking. Ozil had a late first half penalty appeal turned down after he clashed with Sergio Ramos, it looked harsh on the German playmaker as there was definite contact. In truth, the first half was a cagey affair, reminiscent of an intriguing chess match rather than the fireworks of Uruguay v Holland in the other semi-final. David Villa looked isolated up front and his frustration at the lack of quality in the final third was apparent. Germany did well to rebuff the Spanish advances but offered very little in attack, Ozil’s creativity was being stifled and really prevented them from marauding forward as they had done previously in the tournament.

The second half began with a bang; Pedro continuing to find space in the German half, pulled the ball back to Xabi Alonso who couldn’t hit the target. The Real Madrid midfielder had a second opportunity to work Neuer from range moments later but his left footed effort drifted wide. Germany made an early change after 50 minutes hauling off Boateng whose performance would have done little to excite Manchester City fans. Spain promptly began peppering the German goal, Pedro forced a good save from Neuer then Iniesta went close. The later chance saw the ball drift agonisingly across the face of the goal as Villa stretched in an attempt to prod the ball in.

Low attempted to change the increasingly ominous tone of the game bringing on Toni Kroos for Piotr Trochowski seemingly looking to up the German’s attacking options. It almost paid off instantly as Kroos found himself unmarked at the back post but Casillas was able to palm away his scuffed effort. But it was Spain’s pressure that paid off after 73 minutes, Xavi’s looping corner was met by an unmarked Puyol and his thundering header had too much power for Neuer. Spain deserved their lead and seemed content to play on the break rather than dictating the tempo of the game. Villa was replaced with Torres much to the surprise of several Spanish players as Joachim Low made his final play bringing Mario Gomez on for Sami Khedira.

From a simple ball out of defence Pedro found himself in behind the German defence with Torres for support but his indecisive approach only yielding frustrated cries from the Liverpool striker as the German defenders managed to retrieve the ball. Within moments of wasting that great chance Pedro was replaced by new Manchester City recruit David Silva, Del Bosque had seen enough. The game became incredibly open in the final stages, Spain looked threatening as Germany committed more men forward in search of an equaliser, only a great last ditch Friedrich tackle denied Fernando Torres as he was about to pull the trigger.

The end of the three minutes added time signalled the end of Germany’s campaign at the hands of Spain courtesy of a bullet header from Carlos Puyol. In truth Germany looked devoid of ideas in the final third, Spain looked much more composed in the second half and their victory could have been much more flattering had Pedro or Torres been able to convert in the closing stages. Spain once again grinding out a 1-0 victory which puts them one step closer to adding to their European Championship victory in 2008. One thing is guaranteed from Sunday’s final; one side will claim their first victory in the World Cup and I for one, cannot wait.

Match Preview: Germany vs. Spain

With Holland already through to Sundays final after that 3-1  victory against Uruguay last night – it is time for us to preview the second semi-final that is taking place tonight as Germany take on current European champions Spain in Durban.

They have been described by Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque as “the best team at the moment” and he isn’t far wrong about Germany because they have been emphatic right throughout the knockout stages of this World Cup – their last two victories being 4-1 against England and 4-0 against Argentina.

While this is familiar territory for Germany, Spain have managed to reach their first ever World Cup semi-final, unlike the Germans they have struggled their way there with two 1-0 wins over Portugal and Paraguay respectively.

The two sides have previous, having taken each other on as recently as the final of Euro 2008 – where Spain were triumphant, thus lifting that weight of the underachievers tag from around their neck, making them favourites going into this tournament.

Spanish newspaper MARCA have this week reported that Del Bosque is considering dropping Fernando Torres after his lack of form – in favour of Manchester City’s latest signing David Silva – despite giving him the vote of confidence over the weekend that his place in the first-team was secure. Cesc Fabregas is a doubt for Spain, having picked up a knock in the victory over Paraguay.

On the other hand, Germany have a clean bill going into tonight’s game. The only player that will miss out for the German’s is Thomas Mueller who is suspended after picking up a yellow card in the game against Argentina. Cacau who was injured for that game has managed to recover from his injury.

Both teams possess two of the most potent strikers of the tournament – Spain with David Villa and Germany with Miroslav Klose. Records are there to be broken and both have a chance to do that tonight and create their own piece of history.

Klose, who has scored 14 goals over the last three tournaments in just one goal away from breaking Ronaldo’s all time-record of 15. Villa – the current top-scorer at the World Cup, on the flip side can become the all-time record goalscorer for Spain if he scores tonight, thus breaking Raul’s record of 45 goals in 102 games, only in 40 fewer matches.

Tonight’s game should be a fascinating encounter – Germany have already proved that the 4-1 destruction of England wasn’t a flash in the pan victory, but their hard work could easily be undone by this Spanish side that is well equipped at break teams down with their fluid passing game.

I can’t imagine Germany knocking the goals past Spain as they have done in previous rounds, so if you are expecting goals in this game, then they could be hard to come by – it wouldn’t be a shock if we ended up going right down to wire, with extra-time and penalties needed to decide the result.

Prediction: Germany 1-1 Spain (Spain win 4-2 on penalties)

Adios Diego – Thanks for the memories

Diego Maradona has given us some of the most joyous and comical memories of this summer’s World Cup but now that Argentina have been knocked out it is hard to be critical of his country’s exit at the hands of Germany.

Argentina were quite clearly found out when they came up against Germany – they got tactically outclassed and torn apart by Jogi Loew’s young side. We all earmarked Argentina’s Achilles heel right from the outset of this tournament – their defence. And that was their downfall in the end.

However, the piece is not designed to be a post-mortem of Argentina’s exit, more in praise of Maradona and thanking him for the memories he has given us over the last couple of weeks.

It is sad to see El Diego and his side depart because the man who single handedly won the World Cup in 1986 as a play had us all daring to dream that he could do the very same in 2010 as a manager.

He brought colour and humour to every game – the three sizes too small grey suit, the gesticulating, the running up and down pretending to warm up, the hugging of his players and coaches, even kissing them on occasion. His antics on the touchline proved to be a sideshow to the main event on the field.

Ultimately, in the end, he was outclassed, outplayed and outwitted by easily the best team in the tournament by a country mile and the inquest has already begun. Ossie Ardiles has said “This was a clinical victory [for Germany] with Argentina beaten in a way that exposed football’s greatest truth: it is the team that comes first, not the individuals.”

The question is: will Maradona remain on as manager of Argentina? Well, probably not judging by his comments at his post-Germany press conference, liking the defeat to “a smack in the face from Muhammad Ali.”

Maradona went on to say “I could walk away tomorrow, but I don’t know. I’m going to be 50 on 30 October, and this is the hardest thing I have had to go through since the day I retired from football.”

If you are looking for a one-stop shop of quotes from the genius that is El Diego, then The Observer yesterday provided us with all the insightful things the man has had to say over the past month.

There are also many videos on YouTube showcasing the enigmatic Maradona, two of my favourites are below. The first is his antics on the touchline, while the second is one of my favourite press conferences, ever, the reaction to the journalists question is priceless.

Adios Diego – thanks for the memories, the 2010 World Cup was certainly more entertaining because of you.

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Luis Suarez – hero or villain?

Ghana’s dream of being the first African side to reach a World Cup semi-final was ended last night as Uruguay beat them 4-2 on penalties after the game ended 1-1 both after normal time and indeed extra-time. But today, there is only one debate that still rages on and that was the hand-ball by Uruguay striker Luis Suarez. Is he a hero or is he a villain? – Well, that really depends on your point of view.

Suarez – who plays with Ajax in Holland – blatantly handled the ball to keep out Dominic Adiyiah’s shot in the dying seconds of the game. What Suarez did was wrong. He denied a clear goalscoring opportunity, and therefore was subsequently punished by the laws of the game by being sent-off and Ghana being awarded a penalty kick.

Further drama was ahead for Ghana though – Asamoah Gyan, already a scorer of two spot-kicks at this tournament, was just one kick away from creating history for his country and indeed nation. And what did he do? He missed – rattled his shot right off the woodwork.

Had he scored, then he would be a national hero and this debate of Suarez’s handball would not be taking place. The penalty shoot-out that followed wouldn’t have come to pass and Ghana would be in the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Ghana coach Milovan Rajavec called it “sporting injustice” that his side had not progressed after the handball. While his counterpart Oscar Tabarez said that what his striker did was “instinctive” and not cheating.  “Yes he stuck his hand out but it’s not cheating – I don’t think it’s fair to say that.”

What has really got me hot under the collar about this whole debate is the fact people are calling Suarez a cheat. Forgive me for being just a little bit patronising for a minute but the definition of cheating is to either “deceive, deprive or mislead”.

Now, let’s transfer those terms over to this situation. Did Suarez deceive, deprive or mislead the referee? The answer is no. For want of a better phrase, he held his hands and took his punishment; the referee was adhering to the laws of the game by sending Suarez off and awarding the penalty.

So, in this case, if anything is wrong it is the laws of the game. But, will they be changed? No and certainly not after this one incident. Should the goal just be given if somebody handles it on the line, thus denying a goal?

If the referee performed his duty in sending off Suarez – remember this has happened before Harry Kewell did something similar at this very World Cup – then, why today were FIFA toying with the idea of extending the ban from the normal one game to perhaps more. This would mean the Ajax striker would miss the final or third place play-off, which ever the case may be for Uruguay.

As, Mark Ogden from the Telegraph tweeted earlier today: “Don’t recall FIFA threatening to extend Harry Kewell’s ban for deliberate hand-ball v Ghana. Joke if they add to Suarez ban.”

Luckily, and probably for once – FIFA have seen sense and have not added an additional game ban to Suarez’s already one game ban, meaning that he will only miss the semi-final against Holland on Tuesday.

With all this said, Suarez has exactly crowned himself in any glory today with his comments: “The ‘Hand of God’ now belongs to me. Mine is the real ‘Hand of God’. I made the best save of the tournament.” said the 24 year old. “There was no alternative but for me to do that and when they missed the penalty I thought ‘It is a miracle and we are alive in the tournament”.

In short, what Suarez did was categorically wrong. However, he received his punishment there and then. Just because Gyan missed the penalty should not mean we have to reflect back on the incident.

The handball was instinctive. It was done in the heat of the moment. Like many, if I was in his position, I would have done the same. So, when it comes back to the question posed in the title of this post: Suarez is both a hero and a villain – a hero in his home nation of Uruguay and a villain in Ghana.

But he is not, and I repeat not, a cheat.