NED 0 ESP 1: Like a birthday

WORLD Cup finals are, I think, like birthdays – less memorable the older you get. In both cases, I haven’t yet reached the stage where I actively dread them, but I suspect I’m getting there.

I can’t remember a really great World Cup final since 1986 – the first one I saw. That was probably around the last time I had a really great birthday too.

Funny, really, given that the 2010 final felt like a particularly unruly children’s birthday party. When I was five, no kids’ bash was complete without at least one massive temper tantrum and someone being sent to bed early. Holland did not disappoint on that score.

There was more than one tantrum in Johannesburg tonight, but the very best one came from Dutch defender Joris Mathijsen, seconds after Andres Iniesta had put the world out of its misery and steered us clear of a penalty shoot-out.

Mathijsen, along with many of his team-mates, was furious that Howard Webb, of Rotherham and England, had failed to award Holland a corner moments earlier. And the defender, in a show of petulance that would have seen him sent to the naughty corner at primary school, hurled the ball to the floor.

Not surprisingly, Mathijsen got the referee’s equivalent of the ‘see me after class’ – a yellow card, one of 14 Webb showed during the evening.

It was funny in the build-up to tonight’s game when Webb’s wife Kay told GMTV that her husband – the man chosen to maintain order at the World Cup final – struggled to keep control over his three children. It didn’t seem quite so funny tonight as we got a 120-minute demonstration of Webb struggling to control some much bigger kids.

Where to start? Nigel de Jong was extraordinarily fortunate to get just a booking for planting his studs into Xabi Alonso’s chest before the half-hour mark. Webb was lenient in showing only five yellow cards in the first 28 minutes. It was a kicking match, with Holland doing most of the kicking. This wasn’t so much Total Football as Total Wipeout.

It was an awful game, whether you were watching on the BBC or ITV. The BBC usually clean up on the rare occasions the two channels go head to head, so I suspect most of you were watching Lineker, Hansen, Shearer and Dixon in suits and ties rather than Chiles, Townsend, Southgate and Desailly adopting a more casual look.

As Webb tried and failed to keep the kids’ party under control, I found myself listening to the Children’s BBC alternative commentary, featuring three impossibly cheerful voices reading out e-mails and texts while conducting a True or False quiz that seemed to go on for most of the second half. It was the aural equivalent of downing a full bottle of Tizer.

Full credit, though, to the three-man commentary team – Michael Absalom, Iain Stirling and Andy Akinwolere – for remaining so enthusiastic as Alan Green over on Five Live was descending into apoplexy at the apology of a football match unfolding before him.

It’s certainly the first time I’ve heard a commentary develop a full-blown debate on the best time to send your kids to bed during a World Cup final. (The consensus among the Children’s BBC trio was that kids should be allowed to stay up to the very end of the match as a one-off. Mind you, most kids would probably have been pleading to go to bed by the end of this game.)

And still the fouls piled up. The previous record for yellow cards in a World Cup final – six, in 1986 – was soon shattered. It prompted Caitlin in Dorset to e-mail the CBBC team and suggest: “Players who foul with their arms should play the next 10 minutes with one arm tied behind their back.”

Leave it in Sepp Blatter’s in-tray with the rest, Caitlin.

Astonishingly, it took until the 109th minute for a red card to appear. John Heitinga, already booked, collected a second yellow card for dragging back Iniesta. He did not protest.

Just when it looked as though Holland would take it to penalties, Iniesta struck. It seemed hard to feel too much sympathy for the losers. For Webb, spending some time with his kids again will surely be a blessed relief after this.

The best team in the world have won the World Cup, even though they were not at their best. A tally of eight goals in seven games is the lowest of any winners at the finals. They were the first team to win the competition after losing the opening game. (The only team to go home unbeaten? New Zealand. Only perfect record at the World Cup? Paul the psychic octopus, with eight correct predictions out of eight – all seven of Germany’s games plus the final.)

An unmemorable tournament was capped by as poor a final as I can remember. It’s one final match to add to the World Cup Gubbometer, which has been won by Paraguay, masters of progressing without scoring at this tournament.

I’ve written 48 blog posts on this tournament, and that’s enough to test anyone’s patience – so I’m to going shut up for a little while now. When I return to blogging, you’ll be the first to know.

World Cup Gubbometer

1. Paraguay: 3 (CI: 3/5)
2. Algeria: 2 (CI: 2/3)
3=. Japan: 2 (CI: 1/2)
3=. Portugal: 2 (CI: 1/2)
5. Spain: 2 (CI: 1/7)
6=. Cameroon: 1 (CI: 1/3)
6=. Ivory Coast: 1 (CI: 1/3)
6=. France: 1 (CI: 1/3)
6=. Honduras: 1 (CI: 1/3)
6=. New Zealand: 1 (CI: 1/3)
6=. Switzerland: 1 (CI: 1/3)
12=. England: 1 (CI: 1/4)
12=. Slovakia: 1 (CI: 1/4)
14. Brazil: 1 (CI: 1/5)
15=. Holland: 1 (CI: 1/7)
15=. Uruguay: 1 (CI: 1/7)
17=. Everybody else: 0

CI=Capello Index

(NB. Teams are awarded one point every time they take part in a game so mind-numbingly tedious that it would almost certainly have been last on Match of the Day had it been a Premier League fixture. Teams level on points will be separated by the Capello Index – the number of points divided by the number of games played.)


One Response to NED 0 ESP 1: Like a birthday

  1. Bad Andy says:

    Good effort, Mike. Your blogging skills have been legion during this tournament.

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