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Revenge by the Orange!

Last updated on: June 17, 2014 11:08 IST

Revenge by the Orange!

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Mauktik Kulkarni

The Spain-Netherlands opener – re-match of the 2010 World Cup final – was a classic that will be sliced and diced for a long time to come, says Mauktik Kulkarni

The FIFA World Cup is upon us. At two-three matches a night, things are happening so fast that it gives the fans little time to reflect.

However, the Spain-Netherlands opener – re-match of the 2010 World Cup final – was a classic that will be sliced and diced for a long time to come.

They say that sports act as surrogates for war. A civilized way to settle the debate over physical supremacy among two groups. Everyone follows the rules and scores are settled without anybody getting killed. Everyone lives to fight another day.

- Photos from the Netherlands-Spain match

In this day and age, some of the individual sports have been hijacked by money, sponsorships and advertising to such an extent that the players stop representing their countries. You would rarely see a golf or tennis player kissing his country’s flag or draping himself in it to celebrate his or her victory.

The players themselves become brands and do not hesitate to move to countries that offer better lives, lower taxes or even a certain degree of separation from their adoring home fans.

Luckily, team sports and Olympics sports have managed to retain a certain degree of nationalism among the players. Football is one sport that still makes the players swoon with pride when they get a chance to represent their country.

Sure, when the rich European league calendar clashes with a player’s international obligations, some players feign injuries or just opt out of the international matches. But the World Cup – the biggest prize of them all – brings out the best and the worst in the players.

- Football World Cup coverage

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Image: Arjen Robben (left) and Robin van Persie after the match
Photographs: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

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Losing the 2010 World Cup final surely hurt The Netherlands

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The 2010 FIFA World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands is a case in point. With a stellar line-up that has become a contender for the best team ever, Spain was the favorite to win the World Cup.

La Roja, as they have come to be known, spent most of the World Cup campaign scoring one or two goals and just holding the ball. The tiki-taka style of using short passes to assiduously guard possession had taken the Spanish squad on the verge of World Cup glory.

But the Dutch had had a great tournament as well. In fact, they were on a 25-match winning streak that included wins against Brazil in the quarterfinals and Uruguay in the semifinals. The final was an ugly match. Perhaps because of the Spanish penchant for hoarding possession, the Dutch were getting frustrated. Worried about the trophy slipping away, their worst instincts came to the fore.

The referee had to hand out a record 14 yellow cards – 9 of them to the Dutch – to keep things under control. Nonetheless, the Dutch nearly managed to keep it goalless and take it to penalty kicks, which ends up being more about luck than skill. It was less than four minutes to go in extra-time when Iniesta drove a dagger through the collective Dutch heart.

That must have hurt. It was like the UEFA final earlier this year. Winning or equalizing goals scored in the dying minutes of any match are bound to lead to heartburn. It is safe to say that Sneijder, Robben, van Persie and the rest of the squad have had sleepless nights replaying that Iniesta goal in their heads over and over again.

Reaching the stage where you have a real shot at making history in sports is a result of years of single-minded focus and dedication. When the prize slips away, adults sob like kids and get nightmares that refuse to go away. Just ask Roger Federer or Shane Warne.

- Football World Cup coverage

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Image: Arjen Robben of the Netherlands (right) celebrates with Wesley Sneijder after scoring the team's fifth goal
Photographs: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

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At the start of the second half, it seemed like it was Spain's match to lose

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That the draws for the 2014 edition of the World Cup turned up such that Spain’s first match would be with the Netherlands must qualify as some kind of cosmic conspiracy.

The Dutch were handed an opportunity to exorcise the ghosts of South Africa. And how did they grab it!
Once again, the Spanish came out dominating the ball. They have been so successful with that strategy for so long that they probably thought that they did not have to change it.

For most of the first half, it seemed like it was working. Spain had scored its customary goal and had started focusing on tiki-taka. As they were approaching half-time, it seemed like they would focus on keeping the ball and frustrate the Dutch once again. But a perfect long pass and a great looping header by van Persie in the closing minutes of the first half put the Dutch on the scoreboard.

Still, at the start of the second half, it seemed like it was Spain’s match to lose. Would they allow the Dutch to find any offensive rhythm?

In a moment of sheer magic, Robben – one of the few players retained from that 2010 World Cup losing squad – emphatically answered that question. With a demonstration of supreme ball handling skills, he beautifully controlled the long pass, turned it around the Spanish defender and hit a fairytale goal.

- Football World Cup coverage

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Image: Robin van Persie of the Netherlands scores the team's first goal with a diving header
Photographs: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

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The icing on the cake was the last goal by Robben

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That just opened the floodgates. The set piece worked well for de Vrij and van Persie capitalized on a rare defensive lapse by Casillas. The icing on the cake, though, was the last goal by Robben.

As if his first goal was not redemption enough, he outran the Spanish defender to get to the long cross, faked it to floor the hapless Casillas and neatly threaded the ball through the two defenders into the net. His celebration after that goal said it all.

In a span of 90 minutes, they hadn’t just redeemed themselves as a team worthy of respect. They had staked a claim to being a strong contender for a semi-final berth.

It is too early in the tournament to say how deep the Dutch will go into the tournament. Or whether Spain will repeat their 2010 World Cup performance of losing the first match to reach the final.

More importantly, a group stage win cannot make up for a World Cup final loss. But one thing is for sure. With this victory, the Dutch will be able to lay those nightmares of 2010 to rest. The Dutch players have given the nation something to bury the ghosts of national shame and make them feel proud of their team again. The Orange Revenge is complete!

Mauktik Kulkarni is an author, movie-maker, travel buff and a sports enthusiast. He will be traveling to Brazil for the World Cup and will be reporting for Rediff.com from there during the knock-out stages.

- Football World Cup coverage

 


Image: Robin van Persie
Photographs: Getty Images

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