The ‘dirty dutch’ were only playing to their strengths

by Charlie Coffey

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

The talk in the aftermath of yesterday’s final of the Netherlands as some kind of evil destroyer of the beautiful game is unfair on a team who were simply trying to play to their strengths. Some of the challenges were over-the-top, but in these cases it is Howard Webb who was to blame for his reluctance to mark his big day by waving red cards around until he saw it was absolutely necessary.

Nigel de Jong and Marc van Bommel were never going to out-pass Xavi and Andres Iniesta. The only way they could beat small, supremely talented technical footballers like these two is to use their superior physical attributes. Before the final pundits were praising the pragmatism of the Dutch team, and although they changed their minds after yesterday’s game the Oranje’s approach was no different.

Yes, van Bommel should have been sent off for his crunching tackle on Andres Iniesta, and de Jong should have seen red for his fly-kick on Xabi Alonso. This would have been the case in the Premier League, never mind La Liga, a culture in which David Beckham was seen as a physical player. In fact de Jong probably would probably have been sent down for a 10-stretch. The fact that this behaviour was not penalised meant that Spain didn’t have the numerical advantage they deserved, and other players saw they could get away with murder.

An early red card would have set an unhealthy precedent, and for this reason Howard Webb was stuck between a rock and a hard place as the delicate Spaniards were hacked and chopped, but did not help their cause by rolling around as usual whether in pain (Alonso with six holes in his chest) or not (Sergio Busquets throughout the whole tournament). The Dutch must have been licking their blood-hungry lips when they found out it was the no-nonsense English Bobby who had been given the final, and with good reason.

A la Liga referee would have handed cards out to the Netherlands like a croupier, but in the main they were hard but fair. The mounting catalogue of yellows meant they were living on the edge though, or in Jonny Heitinga’s case, just off it. His two yellows were not premeditated or sinister, it’s just the way he plays, and is probably encouraged to do so at Everton.

In fact the game had the feel of a Premier League match. The example that springs to mind is Arsenal away at Bolton or Blackburn, or wherever else Sam Allardyce happens to be in charge.  Allardyce knows how best to approach Arsenal. His teams frustrate and clatter their more gifted opposition to stop them playing, to anger them, and generally to make their 90 minutes as miserable as possible much to the chagrin of Arsene Wenger. However game such as this is not a friendly in any way; the idea is to have the best chance of winning, whatever it takes.

Fabrice Muamba isn’t going to take Cesc Fabregas on in a passing competition. The best technical players have always been treated roughly but it is almost a sign of respect. Players like George Best and Pele were kicked all over the park but it’s how they dealt with it. You smile, don’t let them know it hurt and hit them back harder the next time.

The Netherlands were all too aware of their previous record in World Cup finals. They are not the Total Footballing side of years gone by, but having said that Total Football didn’t beat West Germany or Argentina. The Netherlands were simply trying to win a World Cup final against a far more talented set of players and the fact that Spain only managed to score after 116 minutes when they were down to ten men, and that Arjen Robben was the length of Iker Casillas’ toe away from winning it in normal time, shows that they got their tactics spot on.

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