Posts Tagged ‘Spain’
July 9, 2010 | by Will Frears
There are two games left. The third place playoff takes place on Saturday, Uruguay against Germany in a game often described as one nobody wants to play in. It can be well worth watching though—teams have been known to forget about tactics and play with something approximating wild abandon, which in this World Cup will come as some relief.
Then on Sunday, it’s Spain against Holland; one of two favorites going into the tournament against the perennially-highly-fancied World Cup bridesmaids. Neither team has won it before, so whichever way it goes, there will be a new name on the list. It will be the first time a European team has won in another continent, a particular triumph for Old Europe, after the continent as a whole was dismissed following the group round, the commentators agreeing that the new champion would inevitably come from Latin America.
Both teams play the same formation, the 4-2-3-1 that uses the holding midfielders to prevent the other team from attacking. But oh, they do it so differently. Holland plays with two thugs there, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong to break up the attack and to do so by any means necessary or at least invisible. Once they have won possession, their only job — one they do very well — is to give the ball to Wesley Sneidjer, the conductor of the Dutch attack.
The leader of the pair is Van Bommel, who has managed to somehow commit 14 fouls, some of them proper horrors, whilst only getting one yellow card for dissent. Over the course of the tournament, Van Bommel’s star has risen in exact relationship to the amount of opprobrium heaped on him by fans. He is nasty, sly, always the first to complain to the ref about some perceived injury done to him—quite often when he was the one dishing out the punishment rather than the other way around. There is something reptilian about him; nasty eyes and an absolutely massive jaw. Without him the Dutch would never have gotten this far; he is a beast. Read More »
July 9, 2010 | by David Wallace-Wells
In the World Cup, as in any tournament, half of the field is eliminated in the first round, and half again in each succeeding round—a method of crowning a champion devised by Zeno and guaranteed to bring the whole thrilling spectacle to a buyer’s-remorse anticlimax. (You can see the diminishing interest in the now-trickling coverage in outlets both mainstream and semi-pro.) Whichever second-rate European nation triumphs on Sunday—if they can control the midfield as smugly as they did against Germany in Wednesday’s semifinal it will surely be Spain—will look a lot less truly top-dog than simply last-man-standing.
In his Winner-Take-All Society, the academic Robert Frank famously described the American economy as such a tournament, devoted to the production of champions at the expense of the welfare of many many losers; in South Africa this summer we will have thirty-one of them to one likely-uninspiring winner, a fairly devastating ratio. But it’s not only the partisans of those thirty-one countries that’ll be left bewildered, wondering what might have been, all the rest of us will, too, indeed anyone who paid any attention to the opening of the tournament and its round-the-clock stream of giddy action and deluded, infinite-horizon expectation. The games played in those early days were often stilted by deliberative tactics, player caution, and coaching prudence, and their outcomes were rarely decisive. But they embodied what another academic, Barry Schwartz, might’ve called the paradox of chance—we want each game to contain all the possibilities and promise of the entire cup, to unfold as though the shape and character of the whole month-long tournament hangs completely on its outcome, but we don’t want any particular result to disclose the possibility of any other. On this score a tournament is designed to disappoint. But those early games offer, always, the best of both worlds, yielding perhaps less quality of play than the contests that follow but making up for it, many times over, in volume. Or, as I like to call it, abundance.
July 6, 2010 | by Will Frears
The semi-finals of this World Cup have led to an earth shattering cosmic twist: everybody now likes Germany.
Most of the credit for this goes down to the way they play. Germany was dazzling to watch, especially in the crushing of Argentina and England. They lost their captain, big star and only member of the team to play outside Germany, Michael Ballack1, a month before the finals began. The team they brought to South Africa is made up of young players who mostly came up through the German youth system (and many of whom helped the country win last year's European youth championship). They’re a marvelous spectacle—they keep their shape, looking to play on the counter attack. And when they do, the ball moves so swiftly and intelligently from one end to the other that no one can keep up with them. They also seem largely free of the diving, grandstanding, and waving of imaginary cards. Unlike so many other teams in the tournament, they get on with things.
Speaking of diving and imaginary card waving, Spain came into the tournament as the European favorites, with ball movement and a promised redemption for previous failures. But even if they win, they will leave with their haloes gleaming a little less brightly. We have been denied the glory of Xavi and Andres Iniesta running the midfield at a tempo and geometry they dictate. Instead we have been forced to watch the odious Sergio Busquets collapse in a heap every time someone looks at him funny, while Xavi and Xabi Alonso get in each other’s way. Up front, Spain has been entirely dependent on goals from David Villa. Fernando Torres, who came into the tournament as the Spanish golden boy, has had so bad a time of it that The Guardian—in a misguided attempt to salvage his reputation—called him a more talented Emile Heskey. Perhaps worse, it turns out he dyes his hair. Read More »
- He was injured in a tackle (and I use that word in its loosest sense) put in by the Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng, whose half-brother Jerome is the German left back. The Boateng brothers apparently no longer speak.
June 16, 2010 | by David Wallace-Wells
The tournament is still young, of course, and it’s certainly possible things heat up later in the group stage, when more is on the line. But I don’t know of anyone who isn’t complaining about the uninspiring play so far, and, in apportioning blame for that, my money is on the ball—the famous Jabulani. Before the tournament kicked off, we heard a lot about the lively new design, and particularly how it would pose problems for goalkeepers, who would prefer one that handled a bit more cleanly. But, Robert Greene notwithstanding, it seems the Jabulani has been much trickier for the field players than the men between the posts. As Grant Wahl pointed out yesterday, only twenty-three goals had been scored through the first fourteen games—many fewer than in any of the previous thirty-two team tournaments. (Through fourteen games in 1998, thirty-four goals were scored; in 2002, it was thirty nine; and in 2006, a tournament that also featured a “problematic” new ball, thirty one.) Brazil’s 2-1 victory over North Korea featured the first goal of the tournament scored by a losing team.
Perhaps more dispiriting than the shockingly low number of goals has been their shockingly low quality—aside from the marvelous South African strike to open the tournament, and Maicon’s powerful shot from the endline yesterday for Brazil, the only clean goal scored from the run of play I can think of in the entire tournament is Steven Gerard’s elegant but unspectacular toe-swipe against the United States. And this is supposed to be the sport’s greatest showcase of skill!
It’s not just the goals, either—the passing has been terrible across the board, particularly the ambitious passing, and though the better teams have, on balance, managed to accumulate and retain possession of the ball, even the most skilled sides have failed to engineer much more than what the dull American announcers keep calling “half-chances.” Sometimes fifteen half-chances add up to one or two real ones, but other times, as with Spain today, even after twenty five shots the glass remains stubbornly half-full. I’m getting thirsty!