The best part of this match was that it ended before penalty kicks, where the Dutch could have squeezed out a win and enjoyed the fruits of their goonish performance. Simon Kuper wrote a great column in last week’s Financial Times, where he bemoaned how Holland had turned away from idealism in its football and in its politics. This performance should bury the myth of Dutch Total Football for good. I need to re-watch the 1994 final to be sure—and I won’t do that outside of an enhanced interrogation—but I think that this rates only a notch less turgid than that one.
This wasn’t one of the great triumphs in World Cup history, not by a mile. I’m not sure how much of this was truly Spain’s fault. They are the European Champions—and most of Spain’s players toil for Barcelona, the club team of the decade. Their opponents considered them unstoppable by conventional means, so they countered Spain’s passing with turgid defensive tactics, and, in Holland’s case, ugly fouling. Yet, in the face of all that, Spain never veered from its tika-taka identity. Spanish football is not boring, but when opponents deploy those kinds of tactics, you’ll look boring. I think this victory needs to be treated as a kind of lifetime achievement award for Spanish football. They have spent the past four years dominating the game, both at the club and international level. They have the best players in the world and produced the closest thing in recent memory to a new paradigm in tactics. The sum of Spain's achievements and play has no match. Their victory wasn’t great, but it was deserved.