Goals stood little chance against flooded midfield

Anyone who thought last night's match was going to be an end-to-end thriller has not been paying attention this past month. Caution has been the underlying theme of this World Cup. In that sense, the finals got the final it deserved, if not the excellent and joyous hosts. There have been some rivetting matches, but they have usually occurred when one team has been chasing a goal, either because they needed to win the match, or because their opponents had scored early.

This applied to most games involving these protagonists too. That the Dutch have not been playing "total football" has been much debated. They have fielded a trio of flair players in Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, but the latter is usually isolated and the rest are toilers.

Spain, meanwhile, may have passed the ball prettily among themselves but their goal threat has been very limited. Seven goals in six matches leading into the final, one of them an own goal, made that very clear.

Thus we got exactly what should have been expected: Xavi, Andres Iniesta and company rotating possession in front of a wall of orange defenders. Overrun in the opening minutes, in part due to their nervous inability to keep possession, the Dutch swiftly withdrew everyone but Van Persie, leaving five across the midfield, holding a line 15 yards inside their own half, and a back four pushed up 10 yards outside the penalty area. Space was at such a premium and even the likes of Xavi found it impossible to find a yard to work in, or a way through. It was Internazionale against Barcelona all over again.

If only Sergio Ramos's third-minute header had gone in. Because what this game desperately needed was an early Spanish goal. That would have forced the Dutch to come out and play.

Instead, set- pieces became the most likely source of goals, but the Spanish are not a big side, with only Ramos, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique likely to win a header. And none of them, despite Puyol's semi-final winner, are exactly Miroslav Klose in the air. Despite the number of free-kicks the Dutch conceded, the European champions looked even less likely to score with a direct shot.

Thus, after an hour's stalemate, Vicente del Bosque decided to add Jesus Navas to the mix, a flying winger, one who might get around the Dutch where the Spanish could not go through them. The move almost paid quick dividends but John Heitinga just managed to redeem himself after letting Navas's cross reach David Villa.

The Dutch, however, should have been ahead by then. The special ingredient in their dour mix of kick and cover was Robben. As in previous matches, the moment came when Sneijder took possession in midfield, spotted Robben on his radar, and released him over the top. Unlike against Slovakia, Robben did not score, neither then nor later.

Those reprieves did not stop Spain playing their game. Not much does. Remember the Champions League tie at Stamford Bridge, when Iniesta scored in the dying seconds? They had passed the ball then. As the clock wore on, Dutch legs inevitably wore out. As gaps began to appear, Del Bosque replaced Xabi Alonso with Cesc Fabregas to exploit them. With the Dutch belatedly reduced to 10 men after Heitinga's departure, more holes appeared. Iniesta found one of them, and Fabregas found him. No one in Spain will care about the 115 minutes that went before, and no one anywhere else is likely to remember them.

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment