Poor, poor Holland. It seems it is their destiny to get so close to the World Cup without ever getting to embrace it. They played a heroic match today, but could not do the trick. They became the fourth successive team in the knockout round to succumb to a 0-1 loss to the Spanish football machine. Spain have been magnificent in this tournament, other than their shock loss to the Swiss in their opening match.
When the Spanish defence broke down, Iker Casillas was there to deny the Dutch the joy they sought. Arjen Robben was through on goal alone twice only to be foiled by Casillas. For me the turning point of the match was Robben’s second breakthough. Puyol was draped all over him and it is only by a miracle that Robben stayed on his feet. Had he gone down, Puyol would have been sent off and the advantage would have been Holland’s. Robben stayed on his feet and Casillas mopped up the ball easily. Robben knew he had blown it and ran after the ref in frustration.
When you look at the match Holland were lucky in the first half to keep both Van Bommel and De Jong on the pitch after some absolutely brutal fouls committed by both. De Jong in particular should have been sent off for a putting his boot, studs up, into Alonso’s chest. Referee Webb showed great restraint and went to incredible lengths to keep the Dutch players on the pitch. In my view this is the right approach because nothing ruins a football match more than sendings off in the first half.
Despite the fact I am pro-Dutch, I have to take my hat off to Spain, especially Iniesta, who was on the wrong end of some brutal fouls, but bounced back as though nothing had happened to him. This is what makes players at this level so special, they have incredible guts as well as skill. Most players would have backed off after being fouled so brutally, but there was Iniesta, on the ball again immediately, without any sign of fear.
Holland cannot complain, as they had the chances to win but did not finish. They received many breaks from referee Webb, and really pushed their luck with discipline.
Spain were great throughout the tournament, with the only complaint being how few goals they actually scored. They only scored 8 goals, the fewest ever scored by a champion in the World Cup. Spain’s game was never about scoring goals in bunches; rather, their game was about executing at the right time. Their ability to get the winning goal when necessary was quite uncanny. Each player for Spain played their role perfectly, and Vicente Del Bosque must be complimented for being a great manager. Only France and Germany have won the European Championships and the World Cup Finals back-to-back.
For the Dutch, it is back to the drawing board, and they must live with the cruel legacy of three lost World Cup finals.