Upstart Takes on the World (Cup): Day 27

7 July 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

There were a great many things from the 1970s that are still relevant today. Among them: Star Wars; the first two Godfather movies; female heads of government; Led Zeppelin; sideburns (hopefully)… you get the idea.

Then there are those that just don’t stand up: bell-bottoms; World Series Cricket; Thatcherism (hopefully); Sonny and Cher (quite literally, in Sonny’s case); and what was then called VFL Park. Perhaps now we can add the notion of ‘Total Football’.

For years, ‘Total Football’ was seen to define the way the Netherlands played the game. Epitomised by Johan Cruyff, every player was capable of playing every position on the pitch, doing so with a sheer simplicity that was easy on the eye.

But any thought of Dutch success still being wedded to the philosophy of the team that made consecutive World Cup Finals in 1974 and 1978 was surely banished in the early hours of this morning as the Netherlands matched the achievements of their predecessors, doing so with a style of football that was decidedly not ‘Total’.

At times, they were sloppier than VFL Park on a wet July afternoon, but occasionally they showed the class they so obviously possess, and it was enough to get past a spirited Uruguay who, notwithstanding the spite at the final whistle, exited the semi-final with much more honour than with which they entered.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst opened up the scoring with a memorable long-range bullet eventually cancelled out by another effort from distance from Diego Forlán that the ‘keeper Maarten Stekelenburg probably should have kept out. The excellent Wesley Sneijder added more weight to his Golden Ball argument with a fifth goal for the tournament – possibly offside and definitely off a deflection but the Inter playmaker won’t care. And when Dirk Kuyt found Arjen Robben’s head three minutes later it looked all over. A well-worked set-piece in the second minute of injury time gave Maxi Pereira a goal and the Uruguayans hope – belated, false hope as it transpired.

The goals were superb (even Sneijder’s) but Total Football they were not, nor were their creators disciples of the system. There were wingers, a playmaker, a lone striker, two holding midfielders – though Rafael van der Vaart was lively when substituted on at half-time – and four defined defenders.

But the Dutch needn’t mourn the loss of Total Football. In its place is Systematic Football, where the team doesn’t need to play perfectly to get the result and on Monday morning they have a chance to eclipse their ‘70s predecessors.

MUST-SEE: Tonight is a rematch of the Euro 2008 final between Spain and Germany. Here are highlights of that clash. And if I may be somewhat self-indulgent, here I was in the aftermath… somewhere in the middle of the throng. The filming from the fringes of the throng doesn’t do the madness justice.

EYEBROW-RAISER: Somebody probably needs to explain to SBS commentator John Helm that when the board with the big red ‘3’ on it goes up, that means a minimum of three minutes of added time. When that three minutes includes a goal and a Dutch player going down with some kind of phantom ouchie, it will almost certainly be extended. In other words, his continual ‘this will be the last play’ and subsequent, incredulous ‘and the ref isn’t blowing the whistle’ isn’t just tiresome, it’s wrong.

TONIGHT: As Kevin McCarra points out, Spain and Germany actually take on opposite roles to their 2008 clash. The free-wheeling Spaniards under Luis Aragones are now the hunted, doing what they need to get through the matches without ever setting the world on fire. Meanwhile, the efficient Germans have moved into a new generation of upstarts, thrilling the competition with their play. Cesc Fàbregas has been declared fit for Spain but is unlikely to start, which could result in another reprieve for the misfiring Fernando Torres. Other options include Fernando Llorente for a physical presence to challenge the height of German centre-back Per Mertesacker, or playing David Villa as a lone central striker and David Villa on the wing. The key to Spanish fluency is a stronger defensive performance from Sergio Busquets, allowing Xavi and Xabi Alonso to create as they do so well. For Germany, little needs changing from the team that crushed Argentina, but one is forced: the suspension of Thomas Müller, who has scored four goals in the tournament and will likely be replaced by Cacau or Mario Gomez. Bastian Schweinsteiger is another Golden Ball contender, while Mesut Özil’s pace has tormented opposition defences. With Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose defying their club form with brilliance for the national team, the Germans will take some beating. While their quality simply can no longer be denied, Spain’s defensive line of Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué and Joan Capdevila is more organised and will present a much sterner test than the shambles Argentina, England and Australia provided. They won’t put four past this mob, and as Serbia proved, can be beaten. Therefore the experienced Spanish heads will have the edge in a tense contest: Germany 1-1 Spain (Spain wins 6-5 on penalties).

Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and a Spanish chance to still make back the money lost on an ill-conceived bet. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.