Cup Final Spoilt by Thuggery or Bad Punditry?

by Callum Tyler

In his first article for BackPageFootball, Callum Wilson describes his thoughts the day after the World Cup Final having sat through another night of BBC coverage.

Well it’s Monday morning and the come down of having no more World Cup. As I stare depressingly at a World Cup-less TV guide and my crumpled Holland top on the floor my thoughts turn to last night’s final and a game that was blasted across the morning papers as “A World Cup final so toxic in Nature”,  “A World Cup final so far removed from the Beautiful Game” and “an excruciating, pockmarked, foul-filled 120 minutes.”

Of course we all know the build up to the game. Two World Cup virgins. Two teams famous for playing the “Beautiful Game” in all it’s glory, Holland’s legendary Total Football and Spain’s acclaimed Tika-taka.

And I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t quite live up to it’s hype. But then, honestly, when do games like this ever live up to the ever increasing hype?  14 yellow cards, a red and 116 minutes to wait before the first goal was scored obviously constitutes something akin to the opposite of the “Beautiful Game” and therefore a failure, let down, disgrace or whatever else it has been branded with in this morning’s media.

I watched the game last night and despite my Holland losing I really enjoyed the game. At times it was end to end stuff. At others an intriguing tactical battle. Spain were being shut out by a committed Dutch defence despite it being made up of some fairly average players. And the exciting Arjen Robben terrorised the Spanish defenders at times. I hope I’m not alone in saying that I actually enjoyed watching the tackles go flying in, the heated arguments and the frustrated coaches on the touchline. It’s all part of the excitement of the game. It was certainly more consistently enthralling than the ’06 final.

The final was shown live on the BBC and this was how I watched it. The pundits on the BBC were, as usual awful. Everyone’s favourite Alans; Shearer and Hansen. Lee Dixon. Gary “pun in every sentence” Lineker. Mark “depressing Scouse sod without anything of real interest to say” Lawrenson. On the radio they’re no better; Steve “well if it had gone in the net it would’ve been a goal” Claridge, Graham “they’re playing attacking football and there’s nothing wrong with that” Taylor and Alan Green; the biased, opinionated and self declared Englishman commentator. At points in the game where it wasn’t quite end to end stuff they turned over to 4 times Champions League winner Clarence Seedorf only to hear him say that the only way Holland could win would be if they scored. What an insight!

The pundits were, as expected, firmly on the side of Spain. According to them Holland would have to be on top form defensively to hold back that mighty Spanish frontline of Villa, Xaviesta (as I have so cleverly named them!) and Torres. Holland have been excellent defensively so far and are unbeaten in competitive matches since the start of qualifying.

And in the first half in Jo’berg they managed to somehow keep the Spanish at bay. De Jong, admittedly could’ve gone in the 1st half for “gruesomely kung fu kicking Alonso in the chest.” And van Bommel was also lucky to stay on. The BBC pundits quite rightly pointed out the lack of discipline at half time. However my problem with them comes after the full time whistle.

The much praised Howard Webb did seem to have some trouble stamping his authority on the game although he had a decent game until just before Spain scored. First of all Sneijder’s free kick was clearly deflected by the wall and then saved by Casillas – only a goal kick. Then, seconds later, Elia was blatantly fouled by two Spaniards – nothing given. And with the men in orange stuck further up the pitch it let Spain fly forward and eventually led to the goal.

As Spain were lifting the trophy the commentator, Guy Mowbray, exclaimed that, “And Holland only have themselves to blame!” I bring to your attention Guy the previously mentioned refereeing errors. Alan Hansen then added that “There’s no room in football for the way the Dutch approached  the game.” Sorry Alan I may be wrong but there’s no room in football for hard tackling against technically superior players? Or playing a system involving a strong and well organised defence and skillful, fast, counter attacking forwards? Before the piste de resistance from Lee Dixon, “Well there was only ever one team that really wanted to win today.” That’s right Lee, only one team ever really wanted to win football’s, maybe even sport’s greatest ever prize.

For me the final was ruined by the terrible punditry and the ridiculous coverage this morning in the media (most notably Kevin McCarra’s article in the Guardian)  rather than a bit of argy bargy. A nice ending to the match on the field though – Casillas’s reaction at the whistle was absolutely superb.

12 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    Calum. You are saying that Howard Webb had a “decent” game until Spain scored. So it’s okay that he completely missed the fact that De Jong had “karate kicked” as some people are putting it Fernando Alonso in the chest, clearly being nowhere near the ball and the fact that Van Bommel made two outrageous tackles, both of which could have called for a sending off themselves. I wouldn’t call that having a “decent game”. I would say that his refereeing was far insufficient for any game, let alone the world cup final. I know that he didn’t want to send anyone off because it was the final although I think that a small part of him wanted to keep up his record of giving out no red cards at the world cup. But making up for it by handing out yellow cards to 7 out of eleven Holland players and eventually sending Kuyt off? That is just going over the top. I realise that he also missed a few fouls by Spanish players but none of these fouls were as bad as those commited by De Jong or Van Bommel. Then there was Sneijder free kick which was deflected by the Spanish wall and goalkeeper but awarded as a goal kick. This is just unforgiveable and in my opinion one of a few fatal mistakes by Webb, making sure that he probably will not be asked to referee a big match like the champions league or world cup finals again.

    Like you, I also think that a lot of the punditry and media coverage was very irrelevant and really was not called for, although I do not think that this “ruined” the final. That job was done by the unsportsmanlike way that a large number of the Dutch team fouled the Spaniards and overreacted immensely when they were brought down. This includes Arjen Robben when he was not awarded a penalty after having his impressive run towards the Spanish goal cut short when his one-on-one with Casillas ended with him on the ground and the ball in the keeper’s gloves. Although it was obviously not worthy of a penalty, Robben ran after the referee, screaming at him and in one of Webb’s more sensible moments, Robben was booked.

    Overall, I do not agree that the match was ruined by the poor, irrelevant punditry. Instead, in my opinion, it was the Dutch team’s aggressive behaviour and the referee’s poor judgement that made the game rather difficult to watch. I am just glad that Iniesta eventually won it for Spain as Holland did not deserve to win the greatest footballing title in the world after their performance in the match, which was not deserving of any trophy, let alone the world cup.

    1. Kevin Coleman Kevin Coleman says:

      To be fair to Callum, he did outline the Sneijder incident in particular as well as mentioning the De Jong kick and van Bommel’s frequent fouling. But you’re right, Webb didn’t have a good game by any means. I understand he and the viewing public would like a full compliment, 11 v 10 may lead to an easy victory which isn’t very rewarding in a final.

      But at the end of the game, you have to admit the dismissals of De Jong and/or van Bommel in the first half may have really added to the overall enjoyment of the game.

      Holland were thuggish, taking the two main culprits (if that had happened in the PL both would’ve been gone) might have changed the game for the better.

      Regarding the commentary, I think Callum is trying to pull the blame onto them rather than the Dutch’s foul play. The coverage, as usual, was very bad, but the match was tarnished by one thing and that was the incessant fouling.

    2. Callum says:

      Thanks for the reply and your fairly constructive criticism. I was trying to cover two points about the game. The ridiculous punditry and commentry that accompanied the game. And that aggressive tactics like those can also make for an entertaining final. I haven’t watched much beautiful football in my time being a Man City and Partick Thistle fan so maybe I’ve missed out a bit. I also think the media may have overreacted a bit at not getting the greatest match in the world but then I suppose what else can you expect?

      With regards to Kevin’s comment about de Jong and van Bommel; van Bommel could’ve actually been sent off every game this tournament and should probably have gone on Sunday but de jong’s kick at Alonso was probably just appalling timing. No more than a yellow card.

      Ok so Howard Webb didn’t actually have a decent game I’ll concede that. You say, Micheal that he went over the top for booking 7 players and sending Heitinga off but what do you think he should’ve done instead? All seven cards were given for, if I remember, perfectly bookable offences? If he didn’t book the players surely that would’ve just encouraged them to foul more?

      In the end we were still blessed with an excellent goal and if we’re honest finals are never that exciting…

      1. Kevin Coleman Kevin Coleman says:

        “And that aggressive tactics like those can also make for an entertaining final.”

        I didn’t believe that. It couldn’t have made for a less entertaining game.

    3. Deportivo says:

      Michael, if you had watched a little more closely, you would have seen that Robben was mad as hell because Puyol’s attempted rugby tackle on him stopped him from having another 1 on 1 with Casillas, not for Casillas bringing him down. It was rather like Heitinga on Iniesta, except Robben decided to stay on his feet and keep playing, rather than hit the deck instantly like our esteemed Catalunyan friend.

  2. Varun says:

    What is this rant?

    Holland absolutely were disgraceful, Inter didn’t need to do this sort of fouling against a higher technical side.

    There are fouls and then there are fouls,
    what holland were intent on doing were neither, they were MMA-lite

    Get over it, more than the punditry its the dutch fans/press that are annoying me even more for even supporting this stupid shit.

    Listen to what Cryuff has to say, kid.

    1. Callum says:

      Inter didn’t need to do that sort of fouling against Barca because Inter’s defence is far superior to Holland’s.

      All I was trying to say was that I wasn’t as annoyed about Holland’s aggressive tactics as much as I was about the coverage of the final. I still found it very entertaining.

      It was supposed to be a bit controversial – I’m didn’t want to just follow everyone else in saying how disgraceful Holland’s tactics were which “ruined” the final.

      The thing that “ruined” it for me was listening to the opinions of the boring idiots on the couch.

  3. SteM says:

    For me there’s a big difference between the “aggressive tactics” you keep mentioning and the types of challenges the Dutch were making during the match. They were way over the top imho.

    If you don’t like the halftime/full time analysis just mute the TV and go make a cup of tea. If you know ahead of time that it’s going to be bad (which you seem to suggest) then why watch it? At least the BBC got rid of Adebayor after the first few weeks – he was unintelligible.

    I watched the game on BBCHD and then switched over to RTE for the halftime/fulltime analysis and Dunphy, Brady and co were as scathing of the Dutch as the BBC were.

    I find it hard to be too critical of Webb for this match – there were mistakes but no referee will get everything right all of the time. So he booked a lot of players but they deserved their bookings.

    Maybe people should be more critical of the players and coaches that seem to have no problem with overly aggressive tackling, snarling at the referee or diving (going down to easily as the pundits put it). That’s what’s ruining football for me..

  4. Joseph Sexton Joseph says:

    “De jong’s kick at Alonso was probably just appalling timing. No more than a yellow card.”

    i’m sorry Callum, but this assessment is frankly risible.

    I would actually be inclined the be generous to De Jong on this. Not in terms of timing, but more to do with the fact that he didn’t appear to have looked in Alonso’s direction; so for that much alone, I wouldn’t ascribe intent to him.

    Howeve (outside of the EPL, where referee’s get away with interpreting clear and unambiguous FIFA guidelines with impunity) the intent isn’t relevant in deciding the punishment here. it was wild and dangerous. It was a red card (and probably more, in terms of suspension). The only reason it wasn’t a red was because Webb didn’t get a clear view as to the extent of the challenge (i think many people’s initial reaction viewing on TV in real time was the same). It was unbelievably bad. If any referee in the world sees that, it’s a red.

  5. al says:

    a good piece callum. Its frankly ludicrous how many massive swings in opinion occur due to fractional mistakes etc. If Robben slots home his golden opportunity, which, most of the time he does, or if he goes down and gets Puyol sent off later we would be saying this is the end of passing football and exalting how orginisation and work rate wins things.

    There’s really a whole culture of spewing all this shite out. Phrases like ‘only one team wanted to win’ seep into sports vernacular because of dull, unopinionated pundits who can’t string two sentences together without talking about how good wanye rooney is.

    here’s a game for next season- watch motd and count how many uneccessary compliments are given to sir wayne of rooney each week. Compliments which, if it was anyone else, would never leave their mouths

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