The always brilliant Rick Hertzberg has been debating our very own Jon Chait about the perils of soccer nationalism and tribalism. I don’t have much to add, aside from some personal anecdote. The other week, my father and I watched Paraguay and Japan play in the first knockout round. It was hardly a match that anyone outside of those two countries will remember, except perhaps for Paraguay enthusiasts like Sasha. But the match droned on, nil-nil, all the way to penalty kicks.
This should be a game for the ages, if for no other reason than because neither Spain nor the Netherlands has ever won the World Cup. We are going to have a new Champion and the constellation of world soccer is going to change. While the Netherlands narrowly missed it twice in the seventies, losing to the hosts (West Germany 1974, Argentina 1978), Spain has never reached the heights of the WC finals before. If Spain wins, a talented generation will be crowned as the best one in a long while.
To those of you who chose to participate in TNR’s World Cup bracket (and there were over 370 of you), I have an important announcement: I am in (joint possession of) the lead. No foul play, no backchannel communications with Sepp Blatter, no Italian match fixing scandal—as your commissioner, you have my word. Hovering within striking distance of the leaders, I merely felt the winds shift in favor of Germany and chose Spain.
You may not know this but now you do: Sunday's World Cup final is a unification contest to determine the Undisputed Champion of the World. This is the 19th World Cup Final but only the eighth that will unify the two halves of the footballing world championship. How so? Well, the Netherlands are the current Unofficial Football World Champions, the holders of a bauble that stretches all the way back to the first international match ever played when Scotland and England battled to a 0-0 draw in Glasgow in 1872.
Spain: Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, backheel, pass, pass, pass, pass, Alonso scuffed shot, goalkick.
Best Player(s): Prior to the semi-final matches I would have said Schweinsteiger--but he will be watching the final on tv after disappointing against Spain. I will go then with Xavi and Iniesta--yes Villa has scored the critical goals, but it’s the Spanish midfielders who made those goals possible with the metronome- (metronome analogy thanks to the Fiver) like precision of their endless passing. I hear, “Xavi to Iniesta...
As Jonathan Wilson points out, this has been the 4-2-3-1 World Cup. Both finalists have played this super-flexible system, even if Spain have only come to it latterly. 4-2-3-1 is a system that allows sides to pick their way of playing: it can be a counter-attacking formation (Germany) or one that permits the attacking side to dictate the tempo of the play. And of course it allows for sudden shifts in formation: 4-2-3-1 can become 4-2-4 in the blink of an eye or, defensively, 4-5-1 or even 4-4-2.
One of the only bad parts about being here in South Africa for the World Cup is missing out on Univision’s Spanish-language coverage. I should probably note that I don’t speak Spanish. Not fluently, at least. But I vastly prefer watching my fútbol en español. And being here, subjected to the dry and ramblingly irrelevant South African announcers on the local SABC and Supersport stations has reminded me just how superior the voices of Mexican television are on the global scale.
Jonathan Wilson's tactical analyses of Spain and the Netherlands Raphael Honigstein: Germany admits Spanish superiority Joachim Low, fashion model Applying other sports' rules to Suarez's handball A bird tries to muscle in on Paul the octopus's territory The "ten most reprehensible acts" of the World Cup
Whom will Cruyff be supporting on Sunday? The question arose during some Twitter chat I had this morning with Brian Phillips of Run of Play. In a piece on Slate, Brian makes a compelling argument for rooting against Holland. One, Spain plays if not with the creative, hypnotic elegance of Cruyff’s 1970s Dutch teams, then at least with something that can be perceived as stylish (if you like what the Guardian’s Fiver today described as “hypnotic death-by-a-thousand-cuts style of tiki-strangulation”).