The 2010 World Cup Final was a disappointment. The Spanish, who were the most skilful team in the tournament, only sporadically tried to force the issue and break through the Dutch defence. They spent most of the match trying to pass the Dutch to death. The Netherlands, who have proved in previous matches to be a very talented side, spent most of the first 90 minutes trying to stop the Spanish from playing, by fair means and foul.
The hostile reaction to the Dutch game plan is an indicator of how football has changed in the past 20 years. More and more physical aspects of the game are now penalised, such as the tackle from behind and slightly mistimed tackles, and so the Dutch approach which would have been the norm in a previous age is considered beyond the pale today. As Dutch legend Johan Cruyff revealed, the aim was to recreate Inter Milan’s style in winning this year’s Champions League. But the Holland coach Bert van Marwijk has been shown up on the biggest stage of all, as at best a poor man’s Jose Mourinho.
The Netherlands adopted a lite version of the Argentine approach to the 1990 World Cup Final against West Germany. Knowing that they only had one world class player in their team, Diego Maradona, the rest of the Argentinian team proceeded to foul and break up play for 90 minutes, before losing 1-0. The Argentinians then complained vociferously about the referee who had given a soft penalty which lead to West Germany’s winning goal. The Dutch have spent 48 hours complaining about the referee failing to give them a couple of free kicks, ignoring the fact that if the referee had employed stricter standards during the match they themselves would have been reduced to no more than nine players by half-time.
I used to be very concerned at the prospect of football becoming a non-contact sport, and at times things have gone too far. Overall though, I cannot say that the changes on the pitch over the past two decades have been to the detriment of football. The Netherlands game plan, whilst understandable, really jarred with the way modern football is played at the highest level, and I was very pleased that they did not win out.
Goal line technology
FIFA President Sepp Blatter declared that ‘A goal was not given in a match between England and Germany and it went all around the world, it was like a cry’.
It does now look as if some form of goal-line technology will be trialled in the coming years. Whilst I’m not a great fan, it can probably be brought into the upper reaches of the game without too many difficulties. The problem for me is that the spontaneity and continuity of the game will be disrupted. The approach of examining the evidence to check that every decision is correct, rather than seeing incidents as part of the cut and thrust of the game, seems a danger in the longer term. If you start with goal-line technology, why not extend it to offside decisions, bad tackles and other controversial areas. Ultimately it could be argued that every decision in the match has to be proved correct.
Was the Frank Lampard disallowed goal for England against Germany, which would be re-examined if goal line technology is introduced, any worse than the Carlos Tevez offside goal for Argentina against Mexico which would not?
One of the reasons for the reaction against the Netherlands on Sunday was the repeated showing of foul tackles from every angle in a way that would not have happened even 10 years ago. Mark van Bommel, the Netherlands defender may have been lucky not have been sent off in the World Cup Final, but he is a very effective central defender who is a master of his art. He has now been demonised, except in Holland, as a pantomime villain as every foul tackle he made was analysed in such detail. It really should be left to the referee to deal with these incidents as he sees them during the match.
Donetsk here we come
There is much talk and anticipation of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but in the meantime we have Euro 2012 Poland/Ukraine to look forward to.
It could be argued that this tournament is a showcase for Eastern Europe in much the same way as the 2010 World Cup was for Africa. I hope that the commentators and pundits will have as generous a view of Poland and Ukraine as they did of South Africa, as too often the residents of Eastern Europe are dismissed as peculiar people with primitive ideas.
Until then, as David Pleat would say, au revoir.