Thursday, July 8, 2010

Storylines for the Final

Come Sunday, two great footballing nations will meet to decide this year's World Cup champion. On the surface, it is quite easy to see what's at stake - a first ever World Cup trophy for either nation. Dig a little deeper, though, and some fascinating sub plots add plenty of spice to this match-up.

The Spain we are witnessing right now is a creation of the Dutch. Total football - crafted in Ajax in the late 60s and early 70s - made it's debut on the world stage in 1974. Mastered by Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, it stressed neat and tidy passing, interchanging positions, coming to space to receive the ball, passing away, and finding new open space to get the ball again. As Cruyff once put it, "Simple football is the most beautiful. But playing simple football is the hardest thing." No need to look any farther than Spain to see that truth.

I'm sure the resident Dutch would claim this style of play for themselves, but you cannot overlook the fact that Spain, who play exactly like Barcelona, are the modern day embodiment of Total Football. And it's not like they've created their own version - Barcelona has hired every great Dutchman over the years to manage their team and employ these tactics. Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, Louis van Gaal, Frank Rijkaard. All these guys came through Ajax and lived and breathed Total Football their entire lives. What a strange feeling it must be for the Dutch now, to see their famed creation mastered by a different country at their own expense!

Another exciting tidbit are the players. Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben surely have a bone to pick with their former employers. Both were thrown to the gutters by Real Madrid once Florentino Perez reclaimed the presidency and began his £200 million galactico project part 2. To be honest it was quite nasty and very unjust. Sneijder has only gone on to win a Champions League with Inter Milan and place himself as probably the best midfielder on this planet behind Xavi. Robben moved to Bayern Munich, where the highlight reels are running out of space for his cutting runs from right to left and jaw dropping shots from distance. He only took his team to the Champions League finals (where he lost to Sneijder's Inter). To get rid of such talent like lint from a belly button can never truly be understood. Needless to say, Madridistas will cringe at the sight of these two looking for blood.

On perhaps a happier note, Mark Van Bommel and Gio Van Bronckhorst will be facing their old Barcelona teammates. Both were intricate parts of the squad that lifted the Champion's League trophy back in 2006 and left on very good terms. The two have an excellent understanding of how Spain will approach this final and will need to use it to their advantage. Even the assistant coaches, Phillip Cocu and Frank de Boer, are former Barcelona stars themselves.

And what about Del Bosque? Paul Hayward of the Guardian said he looks like, "A police inspector weighed down by a particularly complex homicide." The grumpy old man also has a bone to pick, if not a point to prove. He, too, was tossed aside by Perez during the first galactico era in the early 2000s. In 4 years with Real Madrid, he only won 2 league titles, 1 Spanish Supercup, 2 Champions Leagues, and 1 UEFA Supercup. Not to shabby. But they wanted a new "look." Someone fresh for Beckham and the other prima donnas who made their way over. Now is his chance to show everyone that he hadn't reached his peak, and that he can adopt new players and tactics to be just as successful.

There's also the golden boot to discuss. David Villa and Sneijder currently top the charts with 5 goals a piece. I'm not sure if, in the even of a tie, they give a right boot and a left boot. I don't think either want to share it so look for both to have an eye for goal
Of course, Spain look to coronate their dominance of the world. To show everyone that tiki taka works - offense is the best defense. And that on any given day no matter the opposition, they will break you down and then break you completely. The Netherlands, perennial choke artists, have been unable to thrill. Total Football is someone else's modus operandi this tournament. But what a chance for them, in their third final, to silence their doubters and win a bit ugly.

Fascinating stuff both on and off the pitch this weekend. It's surely going to be a spectacle.

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