Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Young and the Restless Checked

The Germans looked strangely grim and subdued against Spain today. Maybe the European Cup championship loss two years ago to the same team was haunting them. Maybe the burden of expectations had finally caught up with them. Maybe the thunderous victory over Argentina had sapped them of motivation. More likely, Spain's superior ball control and possession disrupted the flow of their exuberant soccer. Whatever the reason, Spain was clearly the superior team from the get-go and deservedly won 1-0.

Miroslav Klose hardly saw the ball. Mesut Ozil was nervous. None of the set plays of Germany ever had a chance to "unfolded like a symphony." The players were chasing the ball most of the time. Too many of their passes went awry. They seemed in awe of the Spaniards, showed them too much respect. Spain displayed more imagination and daring, two qualities that had become synonymous with the German team until now.

What Germany had to do was not allow Spain to dictate the flow of the game. But that's what the Klose and company precisely did. In fact, Spain did to Germany what Germany did to Argentina.

Soccer can be sublime and exhilarating but it can also be cruel which, given the idiosyncrasies of the referees, was often the case in this World Cup. But none of that was an issue today. Spain seemed mentally better prepared . It showed in the self-assurance of its players on the pitch . Germany may yet redeem itself somewhat by winning the "bronze medal" against Uruguay on July 10. It can also look forward to building on the promise of its young players. Experience can be a great teacher.

In terms of democratizing the appeal of soccer, though, there couldn't be a better final on July 11. Neither Spain nor Holland had ever won a World Cup. The Netherlands played in the finals twice, in 1974 (lost to host West Germany) and 1978 (lost to host Argentina). The "total football" of the Orangies can be a breathtaking combination of finesse, power and creativity. Spain is the favorite in terms of overall talent and teamwork. It can take control of a game with uncanny passing and lightning charges from the flanks. A most intriguing and keenly-contested match awaits us.

Unlike the "usual suspects," a new nation will be crowned the king of soccer this Sunday, and that's a good thing for the World Cup and its billions of followers. The storied honor associated with the most popular sport on the planet should spread wider so that even the smallest nation participating can one day claim the ultimate prize.

As for who will raise the trophy on July 11, I am going with Holland. But to do that, clockwork orange will have to play exactly unlike the Germans. The Dutch must show no respect and go at the Spaniards with everything they have right away. They must complement their brilliance with steely toughness, both mental and physical. If they make their intention clear in the opening minutes, the game will tilt in their favor. And South Africa and Amsterdam will erupt in joy, even as darkness descends on Madrid and Barcelona.

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