It may not have been pretty. It may not have been the spectacle of extravagance and style that we would have hoped. At times it resembled a slugging contest with some truly thuggish gamesmanship but in the end the team that attempted to play with a fluidity of movement and expression of freedom prevailed. Spain are the World Champions. And despite my belief that neither Spain nor Holland were truly deserving of their place in the Final itself, it cannot be denied that of the two finalists, it was the Spaniards who did the most to warrant the title now bestowed upon them.
Spain have shown a mastery of the ball and an awareness of how to occupy space throughout the tournament, that clearly epitomises a philosophy clearly beholden to the aesthetic beauty that the game at its most beautiful is capable of. There were times when they were perhaps a little too elaborate in their geometrical interplay but teams which have such ideologies centred on the sport’s poetic values (rather than the cold, rational, calculating ideals of the chessboard), are the ones which should always leave with the greatest of accolades. On balance, Spain deserved their victory. Holland, meanwhile, having sacrificed so much of their own sparkling footballing swagger in an attempt to grind out victory from historical failure, will hopefully realise that this has not worked and set about re-connecting with who they are and what they represent and with that evolve into the thrilling force every football fan knows is within them. What Holland did was achieve parity with the teams of the past (and in the process inverted the concept of Total Football as almost every player was booked tonight). Given a choice between the two styles, which Dutchman would honestly choose the 2010 model?
Positive evolution has been a recurring theme during these Dispatches (see rainbow-nation). By assimilating so many disparate cultures into a free-flowing unit chasing one common goal, the Spanish team has managed to overcome years of underachievement and crushing humiliations on the international stage brought about through tensions underlying the Spanish national psyche. The separatist notions of Spain’s regions and the mistrust and bitterness brought about by the oppression of Franco’s fascist dictatorship seemed to have caused divisions which would never be overcome in a nation and team which has always had so much to offer the game beyond its borders. Watching such a proud and defiant symbol of Catalonia in Carlos Puyol embracing the beacon of monarchical patronage, Madrid’s Iker Casillas, was clear evidence that it is not the notion of personal gain that should prosper in the end; it is the acknowledgement that differences are myriad and it is how we choose to utilise those and co-exist that is the most truly beneficial blueprint.
Today has brought the factions of Spain together, but with a tragic irony that this day is also the 15th anniversary of the massacre in Srebenica, Bosnia. While the problems that ravaged Yugoslavia were bubbling under the surface for years, maybe even centuries, the fact that such atrocities could take place in such recent times, in a country with now numerous and very distinct borders, simply beggars belief. It is of course a naive notion that football can cure the world of its ills but what it does offer is a glimpse of the possibility of what we can achieve as a human race.
That will be the World Cup’s true lasting legacy. Beyond the calls for technology to be brought into the game and the empty lamenting of Ronaldo’s and Rooney’s no-shows, it is truly fitting that a country so at odds with its own identity, through winning has made the tentative yet cultural-defining steps to try and forge its own unified personality. And it is equally fitting that Spain’s defining national moment has occurred in a country that has walked its own troubled and painstaking journey towards multiculturalism.
The teams that have brought this tournament to life are those teams that have retained their own clear identity yet shown an openness and acceptance of all-comers, whether that be on the football field or from the seated terraces. Germany have benefited greatly from players of varying cultural origins whilst Ghana have played with youthful joy and took a continent on a thrilling journey. We have seen teams do away with the old rigid formations of the past and through such flexibility have prospered. Those that have been resistant to change have faltered and were rightly left behind at such an early stage. (see eyes-wide-shut). If football truly mirrors the times in which we live, is this not an indication of how we, as human beings, should look to approaching the complexities and difficulties that are rife in our world?
As I wrote last night (see all-in-the-game), the notion that football is merely a game played on a field by 22 individuals chasing a ball is so misguided it is barely worth commenting on. Tell that to the people of Madrid, Seville, Barcelona and the Balearics tonight. Tell it to the people of South Africa who have staged one of the most life-affirming of tournaments that the game has ever seen over the last month. Tell it to the child on the playground kicking a tennis ball dreaming of one day scoring the winning goal for his country in the World Cup Final. Tell it to me, who has spent 31 days dedicated to attempting to articulate my enduring love and passion for a game that continues to excite and inspire me. Or everybody who has been good enough to read one of these Dispatches. Tell us that football means nothing but expect an answer that you will never be able to comprehend.
When the historians set about writing the tale of World Cup 2010, they may be tempted to dwell on the negatives. Perhaps it wasn’t the greatest of World Cups in terms of open, thrilling matches. Perhaps. But it gave us so much to be grateful for. For in the end, when all the matches have been played and the medals have been given out, when the sponsors have left and the pitches are re-laid, there is nothing that can truly match this Greatest Show on Earth.
Thank you South Africa. Hello Brazil.
Sunday 11th July
Holland 0 – Spain 1 (AET)