Which team should the large majority of us who are neither Dutch nor Spanish support? At the final there are sometimes strong pulls of sentiment even for neutrals, though such sentimental longings can be disappointed, with Germany the likely culprit. I mean the 1954, “Aus! Aus! Aus!” final, when so many people wanted to see the World Cup got to Ferenc Puskas and his wonderful Hungarians, and 1974, when so many of us rooted for Johan Cruyff’s Dutchmen, only for both to be defeated by what we no longer call Teutonic efficiency. It’s true that Cruyff’s Orangemen were reprobated by prigs for their hedonistic habits, and they seem to did devote rather a lot of time to drink and girls. But we were all young once, they were loveable rascals, and they played glorious “total football.”
If only one could love the present Dutch team as much. Aleksandar Hemon has already said what needs to be said about the obnoxious Mark Van Bommel and Arjen Robben, one brutal and the other fraudulent. If nothing else Robben deserves an Oscar, although Sir Henry Irving and other masters of Victorian melodrama might have been taking aback by his ripe overacting. I hope, though don’t necessarily expect, that my compatriot Howard Webb does not spare his lungs, whistle and cards refereeing the final. Spain aren’t without sin--which team is in this Cup has been?--but they have been marginally more ethical as well as more elegant, belatedly finding the form they showed two years again when winning the European competition.
One other notable difference between the teams is that every man in the probable Spanish starting team on Sunday plays for a Spanish club (the invisibility of Cesc Fàbregas has been only one of many sombre matters for Arsenal fans to mull over this past month), while four of the likely Dutch eleven play club football in England, four in Germany, one in Italy, and only two in the Netherlands. The fact that seven of the likely Spanish eleven are from Barcelona and three from Real Madrid may be a little extreme, but it also explains why this of all national teams plays so prettily together, and why they will probably win.
Best goal: As a consolation prize for the sorry Brazilian performance, Maicon’s goal against North Korea, and against the laws of nature, kicked almost parallel with the goal line. Not a complete fluke, since he scored an identical goal against Portugal two years ago.
Best goalkeeper: This is a little whimsical or quixotic, but l choose Mark Paston of New Zealand. He kept brilliantly, above all against Italy, but what makes him so engaging is that he’s an affable amateur in a game of spoiled, brattish, overindulged and overpaid boors. He played college soccer in America while graduating in computer science and must be the only man seen in South Africa capable of saying “I could make more pursuing IT, but this is sport, and the World Cup and it’s not about money.” A few months ago he was still working at an employment agency in London, and a few months ago he had a broken leg. “I’ve had a lot more bad times than good, so it’s very important to enjoy the good times,” he says. Paston certainly wins the prize for revelation, and good sport.
Worst Call by a Referee: Despite the abject conduct of the England team, my tiny residual flicker of patriotism obliges me to name Frank Lampard’s goal which went so far over the line you thought it would hit the net before bouncing back, but which the officials failed to see. “Where’s your white stick, ref?” we used to shout. This looks like leading to the introduction of camera replays, for better or worse, I’m not sure entirely for better. Let’s hope soccer doesn’t follow rugby, where the interminable trials-by-camera deciding whether a try has been grounded can take half the afternoon.
Worst Call by the Commentariat: A no-score draw between those of us who had forebodings about South Africa as a venue for the World Cup and those (yes, also “of us”) who said that the competition would be dominated by South America. Not close and no cigars.
Best kit: Another consolation prize, but as far as my eye could tell the Argentine shirt is unchanged in 40 years, and thus wins the applause of cultural conservatives everywhere.