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Upstart Takes on the World (Cup): The Final

In the final daily column, Evan Harding reviews Spain’s deserved World Cup victory over the Netherlands and remembers a childhood classic.

‘Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons, and she named them all Dave?’

Those of us lucky enough to have read Dr Seuss’ The Sneetches and Other Stories when we were kids would remember the ditty entitled ‘Too Many Daves’.

In Spain, they could be about to have a similar situation.

Earlier this year, Catalonia experienced what was dubbed the ‘Iniesta generation’ when there was a 45% spike in birthrates – nine months after Andrés Iniesta scored an injury-time winner that sent FC Barcelona to the UEFA Champions League final. (The 6-2 drubbing of Real Madrid may have helped too.)

Expect the same to happen on a national level next April. And for those Catalans doing it twice over, could it be possible that young Andrés may soon have to meet his little brother Andrés?

Iniesta himself has just become the icon of a generation, and few are more deserving. The word ‘great’ is overused, (almost as much as the phrase ‘the word “great” is overused’ is overused) but Spain’s number 6 fits the bill. A classy, skilled, versatile performer, the man who looks a little like Harry Potter is often overshadowed in Barcelona by his higher-profile teammates Lionel Messi and Xavi, but they are almost always at their best when combining with Iniesta. Furthermore, if either is injured or rested, he simply slots into their role.

On this night he was not at his brilliant best, but he did get better as the game went on, much as the game improved as a contest the closer it drew to a shootout.

By no means was this an outstanding final, by definition few are. However, there have been less entertaining 1-0 results, even if some of the entertainment was in seeing how long the Dutch could stretch their luck before having a player sent off. The answer to that particular riddle was 109 minutes but it could easily have been earlier.

There has been some criticism levelled at English referee Howard Webb for a performance which included 14 yellow cards, including the pair to John Heitenga that earned him red. Yet only one seemed unjustified – that to Sergio Ramos for a sliding challenge on Dirk Kuyt midway through the first half and even that was a judgment call. It was a shame that Webb’s only glaring error was to deny the Netherlands a corner shortly before Iniesta’s winner. But even then, the result seemed fair; those looking for a reason the Dutch lost can point the finger at the Dutch.

Despite the obvious quality that flickered through the team, they seemed intent on sticking the boot into the Spanish as frequently as they did the Jo’bulani. Spain created more, better chances – even if the best was squandered by a Dutchman.

Arjen Robben was his team’s best, despite not seizing his opportunity. Just as his team’s performance in the tournament was better than that against Spain, Robben’s game deserves to be remembered for more than his moment of indecision.

It probably won’t. What will be remembered is Iniesta’s goal, told to thousands of little boys called Andrés.

MUST-SEE: Following Spain’s opening-match loss to Switzerland, Spanish television reporter Sara Carbonero interviewed captain Iker Casillas, who also happened to be her boyfriend. It became a notable clip for her opening question: ‘How did you manage to muck that up?’ After the final, she again came face to face with an emotional Casillas, microphone in hand. The result was memorable and not a little touching.

EYEBROW-RAISER: Unfortunately, on this final day, a small mea culpa – having twice chosen Mesut Özil for the Best Young Player award, it appears he was two months too old. Teammate Thomas Müller, however, did win and there can be no complaints.

To end on a brighter note, thanks to all that have read these columns containing semi-informed commentary interspersed with gratuitous pop-culture references over the past month. It has been a pleasure.

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 who has run out of coffee but at least made back the money lost on an ill-conceived bet. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.

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