Spain, Netherlands Play
For First Championship
A final like no other. Today, we’ll have a new nation engraved on the list of World Cup champions. When the Spanish chess master players step on the field of Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium to play the Dutch band of juicy dribblers for the supremacy of the world’s most popular sport, at least during the next four years, more than history will be made.
Forget about the enduring legacies of these two superpowers of the Enlightenment Era. The number of countries in the world that still speak Spanish, thanks to the might of the Armada. Or the birth of the ideas of modernity, rationality and freedom and the founding of the world’s capital, New York.
And never mind the celebrities, the world leaders, the rock stars and the high rolling grifters that, deserving or not, will man the expensive sky boxes. The honor will be present but on the pitch, and the new era of the sport, if it’s to be inaugurated at all, will be brought about by the players and no one else.
Praise the supporters and fans too, who endured high ticket prices, delays and bad weather, terrible referee calls, spoiled fogies and unsportsmanlike coaches, just to see a moment or two of each game when magical memories are forged and all else should be forgotten.
These two teams bring impeccable credentials to the final: both have shown spark when needed, sacrifice when necessary, and goals when they counted. Iniesta and Xavi and Robben and Sneijder, along with their dedicated mates, gave their all, warts and all, and a bit more to get here.
Some of you could’ve picked other teams, other stars, other time to witness, but that’d be beside the point. For this final has a rare quality most classics lack: the new, the untried, the untested. No one knows how they’ll react today, whether they’ll come hungry for goals, cautious not to lose, afraid to make mistakes, daring to have it all or nothing at all.
The German octopus chose Spain, as would every Spaniard death or alive. The Singaporean parakeet is going with the Netherlands, as Descartes and Rembrandt probably would. Colltales doesn’t have a horse in this race. But most of everybody else, Africans, South Americans, Asians, soccer lovers the world over are just hoping to suspend their disbelief for 90 minutes and watch in awe the beauty of this game.
So because of that and because of much more, even before it starts, this final already has a winner: us. Well done, champion. Go for it.
As the Netherlands Fail Again
It took over 116 minutes, in extra time, for Spain to find the lethal opening. Until them, both teams had displayed much restrain, nerves of steel and a health dose of fear, but very little brilliance. Robben tried, Villa tried, Sneijder tried, and so did Xabi, and Xavi and Kruit and Casillas and everybody else. But it took Iniesta to close the deal in a loose ball, just when everyone was already thinking about a decision by penalty kicks.
It was heartbreaking to the Dutch who just lost its third World Cup final (after 1974 and 78), even when it had the best time the first time around against Germany. Spain now follows Argentina as their exterminators of the last minute but fairness, that illusion that things will always happen according to merit, is a fabrication.
No one doubts they’ll get it someday but July 11, 2010 belongs to Spain who had never won any international trophy and has grabbed the two most important in the last two years, the European Championship and now the World Cup.
Finally, as the South American flair has seem also to have become a great illusion in this World Cup, what happens today somehow restores some of the faith in a brand of soccer that values artistry above results, and prioritizes the entertainment potential of the game over the ruthless drive to dominate the statistics at any cost.
Spain, with its majority of players coming from the Barcelona team, has set its sights on a noble quest, which is to prove to the world football can be played efficiently without sacrifice to skill and creativity. In fact, the most memorable teams in the history of this game had both qualities in generous doses and achieved what no goal-making machine or blind strategy-follower has ever come close.
The Furia did it this time, with a gentle touch. For the play that decided this World Cup and soccer dominance for the next four years was not just one of the few good plays of this game. It also had its share of improvisation, of the unexpected, of the surprise that explodes only after a few moments that seem to last an eternity.
Will this ball get lost? Will he miss it? No, this ball will make it, it will break through and there’ll be no way or time to stop it. So to Spain, the champions tonight, we offer the world.