A Spanish win is deserved but let’s not underplay the role of the Dutch

Henry Cowen reviews the 2010 World Cup final, paying particular attention to the physicality of the Dutch and the performance of England’s Howard Webb

Howard Webb has had better days but he didn't make too many genuine errors in last night's final. Photo: thetelf via Flickr Creative Commons

Howard Webb has had better days but he didn't make too many genuine errors in last night's final. Photo: thetelf via Flickr Creative Commons

You only have to look at the statistics of this game to see it wasn’t the best final ever. Fourteen bookings and one red card demonstrate just how physical and bad-tempered the game was, with the Netherlands doing their utmost to prevent Spain from playing their natural game. While the actions of manager Bert van Marwijk’s side helped them stay in the game as long as they did, they didn’t make for an entertaining spectacle, with those in my living room more concerned with how good old Howard Webb was doing.

The game, and the tournament as a whole, lacked the drama of a Zidane head-butt but it would be fair to say that the best side in the world did win the World Cup, which provides a fitting end to this year’s competition. In fact in a tournament short of goals it is only right that a scrappy 1-0 victory should provide the crescendo, penalties would have been far too dramatic, especially for my Mum who drew Spain in the office sweepstake and thus was clinging to the sofa as if the prize money was the Jules Rimet trophy itself.

Fortunately for the Spanish, and my Mum, they had the best team in the tournament and despite an initial blip they progressed through the tournament ruthlessly, climaxing in four consecutive 1-0 victories. Despite all this talk of style over substance we mustn’t forget that Spain haven’t actually been playing beautiful football, but the best teams are always able to win when they’re not performing at their best.

Torres has definitely had better days, while the much-hyped Pique and Puyol were, at times, susceptible; outmuscled by the Swiss in their first game they could have conceded on more than one occasion tonight had the Dutch been able to take their chances. The Spanish won’t care though, all they’ll want to do tonight is celebrate and who can blame them.

One man who probably won’t be celebrating is Mr Howard Webb. Despite the whole of England being behind him, and with this being touted as “his time” it seems the pressure might have got to him. He has definitely had better days, nobody wants to send anybody off in a World Cup final, and he won’t be happy to see the “expert” pundits criticising his overall performance but he didn’t do too much wrong, regardless of what the Dutch say. Nevertheless, at least he isn’t Graeme Poll.

Many people seem to be suggesting that Spain’s win is deserved because the Netherlands were in someway “anti-football” but that would be harsh on the Dutch. Granted they haven’t been the prettiest footballing side in the world but they have got results and surely that is what football is all about, nobody was complaining when Jose Mourinho ‘parked the bus’ against Barcelona to masterfully secure passage to the Champions League final.

The Dutch are unfashionable but we know that we would take England getting to the final in any way possible. They were undoubtedly physical, with Mark van Bommel seemingly on a mission to get sent-off in every game he played, but if that is what victory requires so be it. They weren’t going out to injure players, and even if they did force our Howard to use his cards more than he would have liked, they weren’t outside the rules of the game to the same extent as Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. Let’s celebrate the success of the Spanish, it’s nice to see the best team in the world lift the trophy, but don’t knock the Dutch too much for not lying down and letting Villa and co waltz around them.


  1. I honestly thought Webb was fantastic. I don’t think he showed one unnecessary card and while he could’ve sent de Jong off (and shown Robben a second yellow), I think it stands as a testament to a ref who wants to just let players play that 22 players were still on the pitch after 90 minutes (if not 120).

    He cannot be blamed for the thirteen yellow cards, nor can anyone accuse him of breaking up the flow of the game, that was achieved by the Spanish and the Dutch, who were far short of what they have shown previously.

    He should perhaps have booked Iniesta for constantly falling down then gesticulating at Webb, imploring him to book someone.


  2. 12 Jul ’10 at 12:07 pm

    Kameli Ratuvou

    I was really disappointed with the Dutch last night. I was hoping that their talented midfield would be able to halt the Spanish passing machine in much the same way that Inter did earlier this year – rather than ‘parking the bus’, that side managed to outwit Barca in all areas.

    Instead they went into the game with the mindset that the only way they could stop the Spanish was by fouling them. It worked for a bit – helped by Webb’s early reluctance to show red – but essentially let them down as Spain found their rhythm and took advantage of being a man up in extra time.

    It’s a shame because I think the Dutch will be remembered negatively as a result. I fully expected them to go down in history as the one Dutch side that fully went for substance over style, I now think they’ll be viewed as an embarrassing blotch on a rich footballing history.


  3. I thought Webb had a pretty poor game, he should have sent off De Jong and Puyol for definite, should have booked Iniesta for incessant diving and imaginary card waving and should have blatantly given a corner instead of a goal kick that led to the Spanish attacking for their goal.

    No doubt the better team won on the night, but during the whole tournament it was perhaps disappointing that there was a definite lack of good football. Whilst the Spanish passed the ball beautifully and with accurate precision that no one in an England shirt could manage, you could hardly call it effective. They seemed willing to bore a team into giving up and only Switzerland had the ability to maintain their discipline for 90 minutes.

    All in all it was a pretty poor tournament and it seems a long and distant memory from the quality of football that was on display in Germany 2006.


  4. I understand De Jong should’ve walked if it was seen, however if you look at where Webb was, he merely saw a collision at pace (with De Jong at fault obviously) but he would’ve struggled to see the kung-fu aspect.

    I think you are right about iniesta, though had Webb flashed cards for that then he would’ve been duty bound to show a second yellow to Van Bommel for persistent fouling and a second yellow to Robben for kicking the ball away.

    The Puyol decision was poor, I wouldn’t like to see him sent off as there was a covering defender, but it was a clear free kick and a yellow.


  5. To be honest I didn’t notice where Webb was stood for the De Jong incident so I can’t really judge him on that I’ll admit. Yeah you’re right about Van Bommel and Robben, to be honest Van Bommel was probably the poorest tackler in the tournament but he did it on the thought that he would get away with it because the tackles he was making weren’t bad enough to get sent off.

    Wasn’t Puyol already on a yellow though? It wasn’t a straight red I agree.

    I was just really frustrated at the quality of football and I guess football in general these days because it seems to be more about winning free kicks and getting players booked and sent off than scoring goals.