A Spanish team that will be remembered as legend:
So what happens when you field 7 Barcelona wizards and marry them to the tough, elegant men of Madrid? Noble, total football emerges, of the kind that Spain stubbornly believed in during World Cup 2010’s finale, against a Dutch side that was on the field to slash and burn.
Let’s face it. This was a hard fought but shockingly anticlimactic match. Both teams felt the burden of history in the making hanging on their shoulders. Sneijder was all but anonymous, Robben has never missed more glaring chances in a single game and De Jong mistook the world’s biggest sporting match for tae-kwon-do. Puyol and company were not saints either. Barcelona’s otherwise fully deserving captain was lucky to get away with some of his late tackles. Casillas saved his team from disaster many times over, and will be hailed as a hero for Spain as much as David Villa and Iniesta. Even so, through gritted teeth, both teams gave their best. Renouncing their reputation as the kings of fair-play, The Dutch did what they had to do to stop Spain’s mesmerizing construction game. Yet the Spanish pressed on. Carried by new found steel and ambition, they believed until the end that somewhere at the end of a Cesc Fabregas ball, Andres Iniesta would appear and send Spain up there with the greats. Sure enough, tackle him all you will, but the little man from Barcelona hardly ever disappoints.
There’s a degree of bittersweet irony to Netherlands losing against the very style of play that their beloved Johan Cruyff brought to Barcelona in the ‘70s. This should be a lesson learned for Sneijder’s silver generation however. Had the Dutch stuck to the football they showed in the games leading to the final, particularly in the quarter against Brazil, they would have had a better chance. It’s a sad record Netherlands has set losing 3 world cup finals. But the Dutch must look forward, build on this generation, and just like Germany, come back in 2014 sporting a truly distinctive personality. They have the pieces for it. Many back in Holland will naturally wonder what went wrong this time.
It just happened that Spain was better on Sunday. They were luckier, and had a date with destiny. The octopus has spoken, if you will.
Seeing this match in a 3 story Galician community center in Queens reinforced something I had felt long before the World Cup even started. This success was long, long overdue, and came to counter not only Spain’s anonymity on the world football stage, but a long history of civil strife. Above all, the result shows that Spain has finally learned to move past its crippling separatism. When it comes to football, at least. Mastermind Vicente del Bosque and his boys will not only be remembered for playing legendary football. They will hopefully be remembered for giving an opportunity to the folks back home to put their differences aside, and come together as one nation. Such is the power of football.
While I was stuck near work in Washington Heights today, glad at least Embry watched the classic Spanish display of class against Germany at a proper venue.
All in all, Telegraph’s Ian Chadband said it better than I could. Més que un club!
Admittedly, I’ve been hovering on the reflective side as of late. I’m finding it a bit difficult to pay attention to who is winning and who is losing with projects like this beautiful series floating around.
But can’t wait for a weekend of the best kind of football coming up. A new name shall be inscribed on the cup, and we’re bound to see something truly beautiful from the most talented teams at this tournament.
On the creepy, random side: world cup trophy made of cocaine?
i wasn’t expecting to watch today’s spain/germany match. in fact, i was expecting to sit at work for eight hours and be very productive. but a friend invited me to la nacional, a spanish restaurant downtown, and i couldn’t say no. this only happens once every four years, and spain is my team now, since they’re the last team in that speaks one of my two languages. it seemed like every spaniard in new york was packed inside the crowded basement with at least seven tv screens, the sangria and screams flowing.
Oranje! Hup Holland hup!
The Netherlands made it to the final of World Cup 2010 following an exciting match against tenacious Uruguay. Sadly for the last South American team left in the competition, Luis Suarez’s absence was too much to compensate, even for wonder playmaker Diego Forlan. The Uruguayans went down, but went down in style, 40 years after their last semi-final defeat to Brazil. More on the matches tomorrow.
In the meantime on the New York stage, I am woefully caught in lab work, so I can’t leave the premises and watch the games somewhere other than local Columbia Medical Center pub Coogan’s.
Instead of photos, just this once, here’s a healthy dose of World Cup internet euphoria:
- Bad news for German fans out there. Psychic octopus Paul predicted Germany would fall to Spain in tomorrow’s all-European semi-final. It’s Paul against Joachim Low’s stylish v-neck sweater, folks!
- Mollusk odds aside, die Mannschaft made everyone in the world (myself included) want to be German when they wrote a touching letter to their fans. (Thanks, Cindy, for spotting this one)
- Lastly on the German front, the exciting team Joachim Low has molded may also be a benefit of the ‘multiculti’ squad. Rest of Europe, take note.
- Can’t get enough of Oranje? Here’s one of the goals of the century, courtesy of Johan Cruyff, and a video summary of the last time the Dutch made it to a World Cup final, all the way back in 1978.
- After Raymond ‘Guillotine’ Domenech left the French national team, Les Bleus have a new coach: World Cup ‘98 veteran Laurent Blanc is a brave man. Good news is, he can possibly do any more damage.
- If it’s only Team USA you care about, Hendrick Hertzberg ponders whether Americans hate football.
- And if you haven’t been skipping work to watch one heck of an entertaining World Cup so far, check out this enlightening cheat sheet by Gawker.
Last but not least. Orange geekdom.
Till tomorrow. What a match that will be.
On why both Argentina and Brazil are going home:
South America was flying high until yesterday. With 4 teams qualified for the quarters, it seemed likely that Africa’s party would turn into a prelude to what’s surely going to be a nail-biting World Cup Brazil 2014. But a few youngsters from Europe who barely see in one year the press that Lionel Messi gets in one month had something different in mind.
“Te acompanio en sentimentio por la perdida de Argentina”, a distressed blond woman shouted to my Argentine companion in Queens, 15 minutes after Germany had put an end to Maradona’s insane spell and sent him packing with an unforgiving 4-0. Argentina’s loss is Maradona’s failure.
I admit, I had believed for a good while in his manic bet, and I have the jersey to prove it. I had believed in the “genius” and the audacity to rest the hopes of his nation on the shoulders of one player, who can undoubtedly play the best football. But who didn’t have in Africa what he has at Barcelona: a team behind him. Messi is good enough to play alone. He can turn matches around. It’s just very improbable that he’ll dribble past 6 opponents in a row, and when it didn’t happen against Germany, Maradona had no answer on the bench. He sat there dumbstruck, wondering deep down why the destiny that smiled at him in 1986 didn’t follow Messi this time around. Why God didn’t smile for Diego once more. Diego, whose face is plastered to the window of every soccer establishment in Argentina. Well, Diego should have had that question answered in 1990. Such is the king sport. Mascherano would have had to multiply himself to do all that Maradona asked him to do against Ozil and co. Messi would have had to be super human, and perhaps score a goal with his hand. This was the vision of deluded Maradona, who kisses his players, counts his blessings and carries his rosary, but had no answer against a German team that is too well-oiled to spare squads that show neither backbone nor humility.
Elsewhere, Dunga had the game in his pocket against a similarly young and audacious Dutch team. But where Maradona failed, Dunga overdid it, ordering Brazil to fall back instead of finishing Netherlands off. And he paid the price when Wesley Sneijder, who later commented on how good it felt to have the ball brush against his bald head on the second goal, solved the game for the Dutch in two swift moves and inspired his team to victory. Dunga forgot that the Brazil he remembers (just like Maradona remembers Argentina) also used to have fun on the pitch, and savor the pleasure of running for the goal. He forgot Rivaldo, he forgot Romario, he forgot young Ronaldo and he tried to prove a critical and prophetic Johan Cruyff that “football has changed.” No, Dunga, it hasn’t. The team who scores the most goals still wins.
And so, both Argentina and Brazil went down at the hands of two men who have seen the last of their countries’ golden generations. Dunga lost because he rejected history, Maradona because he relied on it. In the age of Nike commercials dictating how people perceive football, Germany did well to prove what the sport is about. As my friend Peter aptly noticed: how many Germans can you see towering above everyone else in this fun little statistic?
In other news, my heart sank yesterday when Luis Suarez handballed a Ghana strike away from the goal line in the 121st minute of the game. Asamoah Gyan predictably missed a penalty kick under the pressure of history knocking on his door. Suarez clapped, Ghana cried, and Africa cried for Ghana. No matter how cheap and heartbreaking his save though, I’m forced to agree with my friend Bikram: Suarez showed more of that elusive team spirit than the entire wonder trident Messi-Higuain-Teves combined, and far more cool nerve than Brazil’s Felipe Melo. Thanks to him, Uruguay now stands alone for Latin America in the semis. Nobody at Univision saw that one coming.
And man. The Germans just won’t stop. Watching them play is like watching the Sound of Music. Ozil to Schweinsteiger to Muller, to Klose and goal, almost every time. Miroslav Klose is two short of being the most prolific world cup scorer of all time, and he doesn’t even start at Bayern. Mesut Ozil reminds me of the magical Turkish squad that took Euro 2008 by storm. And by now Maradona will surely remember who 20 year old Thomas Muller is. They’re young and thirsty, these Germans. And they’re playing delightful football.
A word of caution though: if Germany makes it to the final, they’re favorites, and winning the cup would be well deserved. But they’ll have to play Spain first. And no matter how absorbing their game is, the Germans have not yet played the team that knows an antidote to their midfield play. Del Bosque seems to have figured that one out. He is not Maradona, and has Germany’s number from their Austrian date 2 years ago. He will calculate his team’s steps the best he can, take full advantage of Muller’s unfortunate absence and rely on the likes of Villa and Xavi to strike first. Spain has crept forward without shining, like an old lady beating vicious defenses with her gnarled stick. But it hasn’t choked, and made it to the semis for the first time in 80 years of World Cup history. I wouldn’t count the Spanish or their luck out just yet.
The latest from The Times’ multimedia desk. Awesome.
World Cup players are sized according to the number of mentions on Facebook during each day of the World Cup.
My day in pictures.
This is just a quick post previewing what’s to come tomorrow, after Maradona and Messi go on their date with history and Spain make a bid for the semis against Paraguay.
Planning to catch the morning game at Boca Juniors, after a lady on the phone vaguely mentioned something about “policia”.