Tag Archives: Arjen Robben

¡España – Campeones del Mundo!

Spain celebrate their World Cup victory.

Congratulations are in order for La Furia Roja!  Spain defeated the Netherlands 1-0 in a match marred by poor officiating, brutal tackling and missed chances.  The game will likely be remembered more for the record 14 yellow cards than for any single act in the run of play.

The game had a cracking start, with Sergio Ramos narrowly missing a header in the 5th minute.  Unfortunately, that proved to be the highlight of a half that was at best lackluster and at worst downright boring.  Ramos was probably the most dangerous player during the first 45 minutes, consistently getting forward as he did in the game against Germany. Despite Ramos’ adventurous runs down the wing, the game had no flow.  Midfield destroyers, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong, both received yellow cards for harsh tackles before the game hit the half-hour mark.  Nigel De Jong was lucky to not receive red a card for his karate kick to Xabi Alonso’s chest.  As in virtually all their games, Spain held the ball for more of the 1st half than the Dutch.  They passed the ball well, but just couldn’t break down the Dutch defense.  Mercifully, half-time came with the promise of tactical changes.  Sadly, those changes did not come and the second half was more brutal than the first.

While there were more goal-scoring chances in the second half, the tackling got harder and referee Howard Webb handed out more yellow cards.  Some of the cards were deserved, some of them were harsh.  The Dutch chose to play a cynical style, fouling the Spanish midfield in an attempt to break-up their passing and possession.  The two clearest chances were from Arjen Robben and David Villa.  Robben had a break away, a result of a brilliant pass by Wesley Sneijder, stopped on a miraculous save by Iker Casillas.  Villa had an open shot that forced Maarten Stekelenburg to make an equally brilliant save.  The Dutch looked much more dangerous after Robben replaced the ineffective Robin Van Persie at the top of the Dutch attack.  As the game got closer to full time it became apparent that we were headed for extra time.  In extra time there were some chances, with Robben and Cesc Fábregas looking the most dangerous.  Anyone watching the match knew that a red card was going to appear at some point.  That card was given to John Heitinga following a crude tackle on Iniesta.  It was Heitinga’s second yellow card and left the Dutch scrambling with only 10 men to finish the remaining 11 minutes.

Ultimately, it was a typical Spanish play that led to the game winning goal.  Fábregas controlled a cross by Fernando Torres and played it to an open Andrés Iniesta.  Iniesta was kept onside by Rafael Van der Vaart who had dived in an effort to stop Torres’ cross.  Iniesta made no mistake, slotting the ball past a diving Stekelenburg.  To Stekelenburg’s credit, he got a hand on the shot but was unable to prevent it from hitting the net.  With that shot, the result was all but sealed as the Dutch had a mere 3 minutes and any injury time to score the leveler.  During that period the Dutch pressed, but were unable to get any true chances.  After 3 minutes of injury time, referee Howard Webb blew the whistle ending an ugly match for him and both teams.

The Dutch really have nobody to blame but themselves for the loss.  The played a negative style and never seemed interested in attacking (with the exception of Arjen Robben).  Perhaps the best criticism I’ve read of the Dutch style was from Jonathan Wilson of Sports Illustrated.  In his column on the final he wrote, “Referee Howard Webb was booed by the crowd and will no doubt be harangued by pundits, but the greatest share of the blame belongs to the Netherlands and its negativity. The goodwill built up by years of attractive football was severely depleted by 120 sorry minutes. A more defensive approach is one thing; borderline anti-football is something else.”

After watching the entire game, here are some facts/observations:

  • Maarten Stekelenburg is better than I thought.  He was massive in this game, stopping virtually ever shot that came his way.  He made a great effort on the Spanish goal and kept the Dutch in the game.  This game showed that he is a worthy successor to Edwin Van Der Sar.
  • Spain had several wasted chances.  Ramos missed two open headers.  Fabregas wasted a breakaway attempt and another shot that came at the end of a marauding run through the Dutch center.  Villa had his shot saved by Stekelenburg and several Spanish free kicks were put either wide or over the net.
  • The Netherlands (particularly Arjen Robben) had several wasted chances as well.  Robben could have chipped Casillas on his breakaway but instead tried a driven shot that Casillas caught with his outstretched leg.
  • The Dutch played intentionally rough soccer according to defender Gregory Van Der Wiel, “Yes, we did that intentionally.  It was not the idea to let Spain play soccer comfortably. They can play fantastic soccer, and if you let them, you doom yourself. We tried to apply pressure wherever we could and tried to make the game hard on Spain.”  While this makes sense, it led to a game that never really had the flow many had hoped to see.  It also proved that any vestige of Total Football is gone from the Dutch team.  Its death will be mourned by fans of the beautiful game.
  • The goal, in the 116th minute, led to Spain’s 4th straight 1-0 victory and their 5th 1 goal victory of the tournament.
  • Spain scored only 8 goals in winning the tournament, easily the fewest for any World Cup winner.  The previous record was 11, shared by three teams: Italy (1934 in 4 games), England (1966 in 6 games) and Brazil (1994 in 7 games).
  • The Dutch have now lost 3 World Cup finals (1974, 1978, 2010).  The only team to have finished 2nd more often are the Germans (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002).
  • The Dutch have appeared in the most World Cup finals without winning one.  The only other teams to appear in multiple finals without a win are Hungary (1938, 1954) and Czechoslovakia (1934 and 1962).

As for the awards handed out following the game, I can’t really argue with any of them.  Casillas was the best goalkeeper of the tournament.  While Stekelenburg played better than I expected, Casillas came up huge in the games that mattered most. Thomas Müller won both the Golden Boot and the Best Young Player award.  The Golden Boot is awarded o the player that scored the most goals in the tournament.  While Müller tied with Diego Forlan, Wesley Sneijder, and David Villa for the most goals (5), Müller won the award due to his three assists (the first tie-breaker).  Forlan shouldn’t be too upset at not winning the Golden Boot, as he won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s MVP.  Forlan is deserving of this award, despite playing for the 4th place team.  Forlan was classy throughout the tournament.  Take Forlan off the team and Uruguay wouldn’t have even made it out of the first round.

In the end, this World Cup was compelling.  The officiating was questionable and perhaps will spur FIFA to make some changes (INSTANT REPLAY PLEASE!).  New stars emerged (Müller, Mesut Özil, Asamoah Gyan, Siphiwe Tshabalala) and veterans rose to new heights (Forlan, Luis Suárez, Stekelenburg).  Here’s to World Cup 2010! Only 1432 more days until kick-off.

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World Cup Final: Spain vs. the Netherlands

I’m not even sure that I need to write this post because Paul the Octopus has predicted a Spanish victory.  As far as I know, he hasn’t also broken down the match-ups.  Don’t worry Paul, I’ll do that for you.  It can be tough blogging with 8 arms, suction cups, and no opposable thumbs.

Not since Red and Orange fought over who would be first in the rainbow (red won that fight and will here too) have we seen an epic match between those two colors.  La Furia Roja (the Red Fury) take on the Oranje (the Orange) on Sunday for the World Cup title.  Spain and the Netherlands are almost universally recognized as the two best teams to never win a World Cup.  One team loses that status on Sunday, while the other will carry that mantle for at least 4 more years.  Both are dangerous sides and have been historic underachievers.  Despite their collective, historic skill, neither team has had the success to match.  The Dutch have contested two finals (1974 and 1978), have won 1 European championship (1988) and been close several other times.  Both near misses for the Dutch involved playing the host country in the final.  Both times they lost.  South Africa has happily obliged the Dutch in not making the final, so at least they won’t have to face a team with the home field advantage on their side.  Spain’s best showing at the World Cup, prior to this year, was way back in 1950 when they finished 4th.  The Spanish have also won two European championships (1964 and 2008) and have been ranked 1st or 2nd for he better part of the last 2 years.  While the match may not include Brazil, Italy, England or Argentina, this is a heavyweight fight.

Goalkeeper – This match-up is almost a no-contest.   Iker Casillas is head-and-shoulders better than Maarten Stekelenburg.  I know that many have been talking Stekelenburg up during the tournament, but I just don’t see it.  He was shaky against Uruguay, letting in a Jabulani goal by Diego Forlán.  Granted, Stekelenburg has made some great saves, but to call him the best keeper at the World Cup is certainly hyperbole. His time on the club level at Ajax would seem to confirm that he is a good keeper, but not of the same class as Casillas.

On the other side of the pitch, Casillas has rebounded nicely from early tournament drama.  He looked distracted during the group stage, perhaps as a result of his girlfriend calling him out , or perhaps it was due to a long season backstopping Real Madrid.  Whatever the reason, Casillas has rebounded to look like the man who earned the moniker St. Iker.  I expect Casillas to perform up to his usual standards.  If Stekelenburg can regain the form he showed earlier in the tournament, the Dutch will be in a good position.  If plays like he did against Uruguay, the Dutch are in trouble.  Advantage: Spain

Defense – This match-up again favors Spain.  The Spanish fullbacks get forward better than Netherlands, especially Sergio Ramos, who was a monster in attack against Germany game.  Joan Capdevila doesn’t get the same kind of press as Ramos, but he has done well on the left.  The Dutch will have Gregory Van Der Wiel back and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst did unleash what might be the goal of the tournament (watch the highlights), but the Spanish fullbacks are still the class in this game.  Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué are both better than the Dutch center back tandem of Joris Mathijsen and John Heitinga.  Puyol was a beast in the Germany game, scoring the game winner in the 73rd minute.  Pique has also been solid.  The will have their hands full with the Dutch attack, but I also thought they would have difficulty with Germany and they shut down what had been a prolific German attack.  Mathijsen and Heitinga are both good defenders, but I question their ability to consistently stop the Spanish attack.  David Villa should find some room to run against the Dutch D, which is definitely not a good thing.

Midfield – This is where the game will take place.  The match in the middle of the park is the marquee portion of the World Cup finals.  The Dutch midfield will likely consist of  Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong.  I like the team better when Rafael Van der Vaart is on the pitch, but I suspect Bert van Marwijk will go with what has worked for the entire tournament (match against Uruguay not included due to De Jong’s suspension).  The Spanish will have to stop Sneijder and Robben from making dangerous runs out of the midfield.  Sneijder has been electric the entire tournament.  He is tied for the Golden Boot with David Villa and doesn’t look like he is going to slow down.  Robben has been excellent since his return from injury and provides the Dutch with the necessary width to attack the Spanish defense.  Kuyt has done the dirty work in attack and has been underrated this tournament.

The Spanish will likely deploy XaviAndrés Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets with David Silva and Cesc Fábregas off the bench. The Spanish are spoiled for choice in their lineup and having Fabregas on the bench as a super-sub is an ace in the hole for them.  David Silva or Fabregas could start in the place of the ineffective Fernando Torres, or Vicente Del Bosque could go with Pedro up front as a compliment to Villa.  I think the Spanish will need to attack down the wing in order to avoid the Van Bommel and De Jong.  It will be interesting to see if Van Bommel and De Jong can disrupt the Spanish midfield with their hard tackles.  It isn’t too had to imagine a hard tackle by one of the Dutch enforcers altering the game in their favor.  Both teams hold the ball well, but Spain’s game is more predicated on possession and short passing than the Dutch.  I hope that we will see the flowing soccer that has been a hallmark of the Dutch and Spanish sides in their past.  Advantage: Push

Forwards – Based solely on this tournament, this would appear to be another no-contest.  David Villa is tied for the Golden Boot, while Robin Van Persie has disappeared for long stretches.  Van Persie’s disappearing act belies his skill, one need look no further than his campaign with Arsenal this year.  In just 2o appearances, he scored 10 goals and had 8 assists!  Not a bad ratio if you ask me.

Villa, of course, has been superlative at this World Cup and internationally for Spain.  He has been prolific for La Furia Roja, making 64 appearances and scoring 43 goals.  This past club season saw him score 28 goals and dish out 10 assists in 45 appearances for Valencia and led to a move to Barcelona.

Beyond the obvious starters, Spain has greater depth than the Dutch.  Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is not on par with Fernando Torres when he is playing his best.  Right now, the argument could be made they are much closer (given Torres’ slump), though Huntelaar has seen only 49 total minutes of action in South Africa.  Beyond Huntelaar, the Dutch don’t have any strikers on their roster, as Ryan Babel and Eljero Elia are wingers and generally play closer to the midfield.  Neither has seen much playing time (Babel has not gotten into a game, and Elia has played a total of 89 minutes).  As mentioned above, Pedro could also play a role in this game.  He was dangerous against Spain and could come off the bench or start in place of Torres.  Beyond Pedro, the Spanish have Fernando Llorente and Jesús Navas on the bench.  Llorente is more of a striker, while Navas is a winger.  As with their Dutch counterparts, neither has seen much time in South Africa.  Llorente has played 32 minutes, while Navas has started one game (against Honduras) and played 29 minutes in another.  Neither of Navas’ games have been since the group stage.  Advantage: Spain

If Spain can keep possession the way they did against Germany and find Villa making runs through the Dutch defense Spain will win this game.  If the Spanish allow the Dutch midfield space, especially Robben and Sneijder, Spain will be in trouble.  Robben and Sneijder are creative enough to conjure moments of glory out of nowhere and the Spanish must be mindful.  Ultimately, I think the Spanish will prevail in a close game.  The top-to-bottom quality of the Spanish side will overwhelm the Dutch, despite the Dutch having a world-class midfield.  Final score: Spain 2 – Netherlands 1.

I hope that Paul the Octopus approves of this post.

Netherlands vs. Uruguay… The Semifinal Everyone Thought Would Happen

Since “I Didn’t See That Coming” was the title of my last post, I couldn’t repeat that for this post; however, I did not see this coming as the semifinal on this side of the bracket (I though Uruguay-Brazil was more likely).  Sure some people might have picked this as a semifinal when the tournament made it to the final 16 or at the quarterfinal stage, but I doubt (m)any people would have predicted this at the beginning of the tournament.  Not to take anything away from the Netherlands and Uruguay, but both teams are playing tomorrow thanks to mistakes and missed opportunities by the teams they ultimately defeated.  A Brazil own goal (now credited to Wesley Sneijder) and red card meltdown by Felipe Melo helped propel the Dutch to their first semifinal since 1998.  A miraculous stupid/sublime handball by Luis Suarez, the subsequent Asamoah Gyan missed PK and Ghana’s inability to make PKs as a team are the reason Uruguay are still alive.  Despite making it to the semifinal thanks for a bit of luck, both teams have played well throughout the tournament – Uruguay has 4 wins and a draw, and the Dutch have 5 wins.  The game (2:30 Eastern on Tuesday 7/6) should be a good one.

Goalkeeper – Neither goalkeeper is known on the world stage the way the goalkeepers on the other side of the draw are; however, both Fernando Muslera and Maarten Stekelenburg have played very well in this tournament.  Muslera has only conceded 2 goals through 5 games and save two PKs against Ghana in the shootout to propel Uruguay to the semifinals.  Muslera has played well enough this World Cup to, perhaps, draw the interest of some bigger clubs in Europe.  At the very least, his play this summer has solidified his place as first choice at his club, Lazio.  Stekelenburg has been equally as good, surrendering just 3 goals in the 5 Dutch wins.  I didn’t think he would be able to withstand Brazil’s attack, but he was up to task.  He made several stellar saves on Brazilian attacks and kept the Dutch in the game, allowing Sneijder and the rest of the Dutch attack to conjure a second half comeback.  Stekelenburg’s performance must have also caught the eyes of the big clubs around Europe, and Ajax may be in for a fight to keep him in Amsterdam.  Advantage: Uruguay by a small margin.

Defense – Both teams play four defenders across the back and have been solid throughout the tournament.  Both teams are also facing injuries/suspensions along their back lines.  The Celeste must play without their captain and best defender, Diego Lugano, who is out with a knee injury and left back Jorge Fucile who is out due to yellow card accumulation.  With both players out, Uruguay will have a patchwork back line, which could make them vulnerable to the potent Dutch attack.  Whoever replaces Fucile will have to deal with Arjen Robben, no easy task.  The Dutch will also be without two of their starters.  Right back, and one of my favorite defenders of the tournament, Gregory Van Der Wiel is suspended for yellow card accumulation, and center back Joris Mathijsen is questionable.  The Dutch defense performed fairly well against Brazil but Mathijsen’s replacement, Andre Ooijer, kept Robinho on-side for Brazil’s goal.  Given that Van Der Wiel’s likely replacement is Khalid Boulahrouz, an experienced defender, and Ooijer’s better play in the 2nd half, the Dutch are in better shape than Uruguay.  Advantage: Netherlands

Midfield – As with the previous positions, both teams are getting strong performances from their midfields.  Uruguay typically plays with 4 midfielders (although Edinson Cavani wanders forward quite often), while the Dutch play an attacking 5-man midfield (with Robben, Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt, playing in front of Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong.  Uruguay’s central midfield has been strong, helping the defenders thwart attacks.  Diego Perez will need to keep playing at a high level in order to disrupt the Dutch midfield.  It is possible that Álvaro Pereira will be called upon to play left back, which would create a hole on the left side of the midfield.  In addition, Uruguay will be without Nicolas Lodeiro, who has a broken foot, taking a bit of bite out of their attack.  The midfield is the strong point for the Dutch, featuring Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Bommel and De Jong.  De Jong, however, will be missing from the midfield due to yellow card accumulation.  His absence shouldn’t prove too costly, as the other 4 members of the starting Dutch midfield are all world class players and will be able to play.  Advantage: Netherlands

Forwards – Uruguay’s forwards have certainly been more potent than the Dutch forwards so far.  Sneijder, a midfielder, leads the Dutch in scoring.  Robin Van Persie, the starting Dutch forward, has only one goal during the World Cup and hasn’t really looked dangerous during many of the games. The Dutch are attacking much more out of midfield. Uruguay, on the other hand, has an in form Diego Forlán, who has 3 goals so far and has been dangerous from set pieces. Uruguay will be without Suarez (3 goals) following his game saving red card, which means that Edinson Cavani and Sebastián Fernández will be called on to replace his goal scoring.  Forlán has been dangerous and has had a better tournament than Van Persie.  If Suarez weren’t suspended, this would be a no contest for me.  I think, on the whole, Uruguay’s forwards are more dangerous than the Dutch forwards.  Advantage: Uruguay

These two teams are certainly no strangers to World Cup finals or semifinals.  The Dutch have been to two finals (losing both) and finished 4th in 1998.  Uruguay has won the World Cup twice (1930 and 1950) and finished 4th twice (1954 and 1970).  Which team will be able to recapture the glories of the past?  While both teams won two areas of the field, the Dutch midfield is just so much stronger than any part of Uruguay’s team (even counting Forlán, who has been splendid).  The Dutch will use their strong midfield to dominate possession and break down Uruguay’s defense.  The left side of the field could prove to be problematic for Uruguay, as Robben will be going against the replacement for Fucile.  Sneijder has also been on fire and must be closely monitored.  I see the Dutch winning this game, setting up an all European final.