Monday, July 12, 2010

Waka Waka Finale

Curiously enough Waka means poetry in Japanese and quite fittingly the poetic display of Spanish team won them the FIFA World Cup 2010. The intricate passing, ability to play in the triangular formations, supernatural awareness of their teammates’ positions, patient build-up of highest quality and belief in their type of football got the La Furia Roja (The Red Fury) their first world cup. The team shed the tag of perennial under-achievers to put the most coveted trophy on the earth alongside their Euro 2008 crown. They still under-achieved in terms of number of goals they scored in the tournament. For a team which averaged 3 goals per match in 10 qualifying matches, 8 goals in 7 matches was definitely below par. But had the football been only about the goals, the game would be decided in the 10 minutes of penalty shootout rather than 90 minutes of tactical brilliance.

The signs could have not been more ominous in the beginning. Their most potent striker, Fernando Torres, was nursing injury and was not at his best. They lost in their first match against Switzerland which only knew how to unfailingly block the ever raging Spanish bulls. History was against them as no team which lost their initial match in the world cup ever went on to win the trophy. But the history is made by those who dare to believe. The signs were already there in that match. They kept working on the passes; they kept their cool and showed indefatigable will to trust their brand of football. As the tournament progressed, they got better and better. It was like a beautiful orchestra. Sadly it never reached to its rightful crescendo.

They were destined to be winners. This golden generation of Spanish football has all the qualities which make a team successful. They have the most creative midfielders in the world – Xavi and Iniesta. Xavi completed the highest percentage of passes in the championship. He was the master orchestrator. Iniesta was fast, imaginative and subtle – in a sort of poetic justice, he scored the winning goal in the final. He was omni-present throughout the tournament. He was in left, right and center, on flanks, in attacking positions and in defending positions. The opposition must have feared him the most as he might hold the distinction of being fouled the maximum number of times. In Xabi Alonso and Busquets, they have the best of the holding midfielders. While Torres left his shooting shoes somewhere in Spain, David Villa came to the fore. Sergio Ramos ran like a mad bull and perhaps deserved many goals, and still managed to perform his defensive duty with exceptional accuracy. Capdavila was so efficient that he almost managed to go unnoticed. Piquet and Puyol made sure that they could defend a slightest margin of one goal. When everything else failed, there was captain Iker Casillas who again proved that he is the best goalie in the world. All the reserve players were so good that it was injustice to leave them on bench, but such was talent in this side. Llorente was remarkable in league stage, Pedro entertained in semifinal and Navas and Febregas illuminated the Soccer City in the final. Then there was grand old guiding force behind the Spanish armada - Vicente Del Bosque.

In a country fiercely fragmented, the credit goes to Del Bosque, a Madrid coach, to lead the team which consisted mainly of Catalonia players and a few from Madrid, Basque and Canary Islands to the glory. The country is already reeling under financial turmoil and touted to be the next ‘Greek’ tragedy. But the win gave them something to rejoice and revel in. There was everything Spanish about the win. They played like a team. They showed great respect for the head of the family (the coach). They were selfless (almost, as Pedro showed his selfish side against Germany in the semifinal, and immediately got retributive justice in the form of substitution) – so much selfless that the midfielders wanted to pass even when they were in the sight of the goal. Iniesta and Xavi were like monks in the garb of footballers. Following Bhagwad Geeta’s immortal philosophy, they continued performing their karma without any visible wish for the fruits. They showed how the beautiful game should be played. When there was scare in the final, San Casillas (Saint Casillas) saved them to elevate his status from a saint to a god. Iniesta’s message on his jersey was a great tribute to Dani Jarque who dies last year: Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros ( Jarque, You are always with us).

I have a complaint though. My biggest worries for the final were not founded in my fear of seeing the side losing. I knew they cannot be defeated if they play the way only they can. It was about the aggressive physical play of the Dutch. Within first couple of minutes, Robie Van Persie jabbed Busquets behind his knee without any intention of playing the ball. A few minutes later, Mark Van Bommel came rushing and slid to dispossess Iniesta from behind. No wonder Van Bommel is hated by the opposition fans wherever he plays his club football. The Dutch dedicated themselves to gamesmanship against the beautiful game of their opponents. As Van Bommel went down, he carried on Iniesta with him. It was that natural human folly grounded in the envy – I will get down but make sure you accompany me. De Jong kicked Alonso in his chest as if to prove that they were in a bout of wrestling. And it was form of WWE because the Dutch were good actors also. Quite predictably Spain responded the way the Dutch wanted – by reciprocating, though not as pugnaciously but still uncharacteristically. The team which got only three yellow cards in their first 7 matches got 5 more in the final game (though I do not understand what prompted the Yorkshire referee to give card to Xavi, and Iniesta was carded for removing his jersey after celebrating the goal). The Dutch surely got better of the Spain there, getting 1 red card and 7 yellow cards. A world record for total number of cards in a final. I remembered the match between Portugal and the Netherlands in the previous world cup when they wrestled with each other in the infamous match.

My fascination for Spanish team was born out of the fair play they demonstrated and rightly rewarded with fair play award in the 2006 edition of the tournament. They shared the honors then with Brazil. Though they even denied sharing the fair play award with anyone this time, I wish they had less yellow cards in the final or no cards at all. Agreed that the Dutch started it all and the Spain were dragged into the brawl, but they should have displayed the same hermit like qualities with which they won my heart. For once Iniesta was flustered by the Dutch sandwiching him anywhere and everywhere. As Gandhiji put it, the means to an end is as important as the end itself, though they won all fair and square. A little more fairness and beauty would not have harmed. One word for the Dutch – the will to win got them into the tactic to play physically aggressive but they showed great character when they refused to play the corner when jabulani jump beat Casillas and also the respect they showed for the winner before the victory march in the ground. That prompts me to think that there is nothing like black and white, in football in particular and in life in general. Like in Marodana’s beard and suit, there is shade of grey in everything.

It was necessary for them to win to show the world that you can win fairly and beautifully and can still gain respect of your opponents. The match with Germans was the best of the tournament when it came to fair play. There lies the hope for the future – both Spain and German teams are quite young and if they continued playing fair and with flair, the beautiful game will win many more hearts. They will represent all the good there is in football. As the game goes to Brazil from South Africa, the Samba dance will take over after 4 years. One just hopes that the sound of the irritable vuvuzela dies soon and the fair play never does.

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