Right, everyone say after me: "hair-lick.” Now do it again. That's the closest you lot are going to get to "heerlijk" (generic, for “whoa!” “fab!” or “wondrous!”), which the Dutch say after a stonking great feast, which is pretty much what that football game was.
(By the way, can we agree to ban the word soccer? Soccer is what moms pick their kids up from. Football is, um, played with the feet—not played with hands and arms and concussive heads used to launch new consumer products at the Super Bowl).
Heerlijk. For all of us old-time Ajax supporters from the 70s and 80s, for all who suffered through the World Cup shocker in ‘74, saw Johan Cruyff depart to Barcelona (thus planting the seeds of the Spanish footballing rebirth), who suffered again in 1978 and who were abysmally depressed by the hack 'n slash performance of four years ago, this one was lekker (look it up). For me, also, a Spurs supporter (Tottenham, sigh, not San Antonio) only slightly marred by the prospect of Louis van Gaal going to Old Trafford instead of White Hart Lane. But hey, we're looking forward to a Mauricio Pochettino miracle.
For a bit there it looked as though the ugliness of four years ago was going to happen again. The Diego Costa penalty was another stinker as calls go: Costa stepped on de Vrij's leg. "Clearly" as Ruud van Nistelrooy said (and when asked if he's ever done it, did a coy giggle and said "that's another point"). The monster foul was Diego Costa head-butting Bruno Martins Indi. Well, not with the massive drilling-a-hole-in-your-brain attack of Zinedine Zidane, but he should have been sent off. Maybe on replay the skull-lunge was actually a little bow of acknowledgement, as in "I defer to you, I'm total crap and am embarrassed to be here O’ Martins Indi; please don't misunderstand this as an offensive move, as everyone will have noticed offensive moves seem to be beyond me this afternoon."
And look, everyone who's not Spanish—well, surely everyone who is Spanish, too, actually—haven't we TOTALLY had it with tiki-taka, which we will henceforth bequeath to whichever band of blondes competes for Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest? So is it okay now to call it possession football, especially as Spain played it successfully for, oh, about 20 minutes tops?
Then the tak went tiki and out. It was the Dutch who actually took possession, pretty much of everything.
Will I forgive all the tabloids for "Flying Dutchman" cliches tomorrow? Sure, I'm in the mood to forgive anything. Robin van Persie's header was a thing of such magic that even he couldn't quite believe he'd done it. You wait and wait. You’re an old fashioned center forward. SOMETHING might come your way sometime. Well not these days, especially not at Old Trafford.
And then this did come his way and up he goes. And the noggin has to strike the sphere at exactly the right angle, and then there's the neck issue. You have to have equipped yourself with neck muscles more or less of cast iron, to bang it with the bounce at that speed, over that distance, with that perfect targeting. And wow, Robin wasn't even afraid to mess up his perfect hairdo! Bang! In it goes! And the world changes.
After half time it got wet. The Dutch, you'll have noticed, like water. They live in it if not for it. Spanish, not so much. They were carrying water (see Diego Costa). A weird sense of ruined entitlement set in and turned into a kind of petulance. "Oh, well, if you’re going to presume to score goals against us, we're not playing.”
And they didn't. Iniesta did, non stop—tireless, brilliant. (Please come and play at White Hart Lane. Please.) Xavi intermittently. Sergio Ramos looked like a horse signing on for the glue factory. It was the bloody cheek of the Dutch to be faster, fitter, to not wait patiently for the next round of tiki-taka to get under way. And then there was Arjen Robben. The photos will all be of the van Persie header, but Robben was the real master—twice. Killer bursts of speed, an incredible weave, and then somehow so perfectly balanced. Everything froze while the Robben brain directed the Robben left foot to shoot it. Now!
It was so beautiful, so thrilling, that only occasionally, it occurred to me, he really does look like Sir Patrick Stewart's long lost son. The bullet head, the knitted brow, the muscular delivery. Yeah. Got to be.
And then Spain did the el foldo. At least Juan Carlos, el Rey, knew when to go and how to do it with dignity. There was a lovely sacramental moment when Vicente del Bosque, looking like Don Quixote with a few extra kilos, went along the line and touched the heads of his players in consolation, blessing some sort of magic spell. God knows they need all the spells they can get.