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Ole! Ole! Ole! Viva Espana! Ole! Ole! Ole!
What a tiring Sunday (for my eyes at least!). Formula 1 at Silverstone in the afternoon, the mountainous stage of the Tour de France with the arrival at 1700 metres on the plateau of l'Alpe-Duez in the evening and later at night, the World Cup final at Johannesburg in South Africa.
Before I come to the final, a few words about Saturday's match at the Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth for the third place between Uruguay and Germany.
I had told you that nobody really remembers the winner of the 'little final'. However, this time not only will we remember Joachim Loew and his team earning the merited bronze medal, but the match against Uruguay was one of the most pleasing and lively of the tournament.
We could see that both teams were liberated from the tension of winning at all cost (and therefore free from the compulsion of taking no risks). At the same time, both dearly coveted the third step on the podium.
And they played football.
Great match and great goals!
Diego Forlan, who had given his team a lead at the beginning of the second half with a brilliant volley, fought like a lion till the end. It did not work, though at the last second of injury time, he placed one of his now-famous free kicks on the bar of Hans Joerg Butt, the Bayern Munich goal-keeper. It was the end of Uruguay's dreams.
Forlan has really been the discovery of this World Cup (he was later rightly nominated for the Adidas Golden Ball).Uruguay will return to Montevideo without a third place, but they entertained us well. Thank you, the Celeste.
The same cannot be said about the final, the stakes were probably too high and the Dutch too nervous. It was a festival of yellow cards and it would (should) have been worse for the Oranje players if the British referee had not been so kind.
From the start the Dutch played an aggressive game. Coach Bernt van Marwijk had probably decided to starve the Roja of balls to avoid a remake of the semi-final against Germany. They did not succeed.
While the Germany-Spain semi-final was free of yellow (and red) cards, British referee Howard Webb distributed 16 yellow cards and one red card during the final. Every Dutch player except goalie Maarten Stekelenburg and Wesley Sneijder were booked. It gives you an idea of the game.
Mid-fielder Van Bommel was lucky to get only a yellow when he thrust his feet in Andres Iniesta's ankles 22 minutes from the start. We had not seen all: Worse was to come, 6 minutes later Nigel de Jong did one of the most horrific gestures I have ever seen in football.
The Manchester City player stopped Xabi Alonso with a dreadful kick in his chest. De Jong should have seen red. Suddenly, I understood what Mr Webb's wife meant when she said he can't control his own kids.
But the answer lies somewhere else. In an interview after the match, De Jong complained against the referee: 'Webb made some curious decisions especially the last bit (in favour of Spain).' He added, 'Nowadays the referees are told what to do by FIFA.'
Had FIFA asked the British referee not to distribute red cards during the final as it would kill the game? It is probably the case. De Jong explained his unjustifiable action: 'It is a final so everyone did everything they could to win no matter what, it was the same for both sides, we had some fouls, so did they. This is your once in a lifetime opportunity.'
Well, that is not a good reason to play such bad football. It is not necessary here to review the many opportunities of the Spaniards. Everyone can see the match in a loop on a sports channel for the next few days or weeks. Arjen Robben had two chances to open the score alone in front of Casillas, but the Roja captain won both duels.
The Spaniards had many more chances, but the ball refused to enter Stekelenburg's goal. Only three minutes before the penalty shoot-out did Iniesta liberate his team and his country which has been depressed for other reasons (they are projected as the next 'Greek' economic case of the European Union).
I was relieved to see that a penalty shoot-out would not decide the winner of the Cup. At least Spain will not return bankrupt from the South African fields. The Iberian people probably need this especially after a disastrous sports weekend (they lost to France in the Davis Cup, Fernando Alonso ended in 14th place at Silverstone and Alberto Contador, the cyclist, could not follow Luxembourger Andy Schleck in the last kilometre of the Tour de France). Iniesta's goal compensated for all that and much more.
Johann Cruyff, who led the Dutch in the 1974 World Cup final, was right when he noted before the match that the Spaniards play better football (he was, after all, one of the 'fathers' of the Barcelona style of play).
And, of course, Paul the Octopus, is correct. It is rare to find a fortune-teller get 10 on 10. Paul probably has a great career in front of him. He could give the results of the next German election, help traders on Wall Street and even outsource his siddhis in India to select brides or grooms.
Was the World Cup worth it? The New York Times commented: 'As the World Cup ended, debate continued about whether it was worth spending about $5.4 billion to put on a soccer tournament when some of the stadiums were likely to become white elephants and there was hardly any system in place for youth development in sports.'
Personally, I think it is. In India, I pray that the cricket craze will now be mixed with a bit of running after a jabulani. It would do the country good if India wants to be a sports superpower one day.
So, see you in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.
The flamenco may be replaced by the samba. I still have to learn the steps.
Africa was fun.
Ole! Ole! Ole!
Image: Uruguayan star Diego Forlan during the third place playoff game in Port Elizabeth, July 10. Photograph: Marcos Brindicci/Reuters
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