World Cup Final, Spain 1-0 Netherlands: How It Was Lost
To the watching world, Soccer City in Johannesburg played host to a boring, brutal 19th FIFA World Cup Final in which Howard Webb's deleterious mistakes were the only factor on the outcome.
And to the expert few, world football's pinnacle match in South Africa saw tactical perfection executed from both sides and hence leading to the tight, tense, closely-contested encounter with only one moment of magic able to break the mould and provide the world with a victor.
But it was a moment of magic that was always going to come from just one team, Spain, with head coach Vicente Del Bosque winning the tactical battle against counterpart Bert Van Marwijk, who's Netherlands team were set up with the wrong tactics from the outset.
Here is how the Oranje shot themselves in the foot and ended up losing for a third time in a FIFA World Cup Final.
Dangerous Dutch Ineffective
The somewhat 'hostile assertion' displayed by the Netherlands with their rough yet legal play (something akin to gamesmanship) was a good tactic by head coach Bert Van Marwijk, in theory.
This controversial tactic set up by the Dutch was theoretically the best way to stop Spain playing their passing game, by putting a slight bit of fear into the minds of the Spanish players, increasing their cognitive (and even somatic) anxiety levels, hence reducing their decision-making and passing quality, and ultimately leading to stray passes and thus complementing Holland's quick break and counter-attacking system.
A brilliant tactic in theory which Van Marwijk, his assistants and the team psychologists would've all devised in hope that it would contribute to Spain's downfall and add to their nerves on the big occasion, considering the inexperience Spain has of participating in a World Cup final.
However, such a subtly intelligent tactic never came to fruition, with midfield enforcers Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel being too naturally aggresive as footballers for this move to work with precise control.
Needless fouls were given away, the focus switched from playing their own game to stopping Spain's style, and it was this idea from the technical staff which ended up with Everton's Johnny Heitinga getting sent-off and subsequently having the defence exploited to give Spain that dreaded 1-0 win.
Didn't Go Down The Middle Enough
With left-back Joan Capdevilla being Spain's weak link and right-back Sergio Ramos being one of the most adventurous full-backs in world football, Van Marwijk saw the perfect opportunity to damage the Spanish by focusing the play out wide to Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt and Eljero Elia later on.
The idea was that Kuyt, Elia and Robben especially would drag the ball down the wing before cutting inside past the full-backs and creating opportunities to Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder in the centre of midfield.
However, that idea failed and Van Marwijk saw that focusing the play towards the middle, with Robben cutting inside without the ball and making forwards runs at Spain's centre-back partnership proved to be the best way to attack La Furia Roja .
Some beautiful through-balls from playmaker Sneijder meant Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique had their lack of pace exposed and left Robben with one-on-ones against Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Had Robben scored, Van Marwijk would've found the perfect formula for breaking down the Spanish.
Although, the problem was that the Dutch boss only realised this towards the latter stages of the game, meaning a whole first half and large parts of the second-half were wasted with no meaningful threat on Spain.
Switzerland Model a No-go
It appears that the Netherlands tried to develop and improve on the tactical ideas of Switzerland, who actually beat Spain 1-0 in their opening Group H game back in the middle of June.
The Dutch decided to close down only inside their own half, thereby giving Spain time and space on the ball, but only where they weren't a threat, meaning the Dutch could avoid fatigue and reserve their energy for quick, deadly counter-attacks when the Spanish would run out of attacking options and consequently be more likely to make sloppy errors and concede possession.
In theory, it was a logical move, as Spain were the better conditioned athletes and being defensive with great attacking players meant the Netherlands could negate the great Spanish attackers and forward-minded players such David Villa, Pedro, Xavi, Iniesta, etc.
And after negating the impact of Villa, Iniesta, etc, on the match, according the technical team's rule of logic, Holland would've been able break quickly and expose the lack of pace in the Spain centre-backs, exploit the gaps left by the full-backs, and have the likes of Sneijder and Van Bommel thread through balls past the Spanish "doble pivote" of two holding midfielders protecting the back four.
The buzz word in this article is "however", and like with all of Van Marwijk's theoretically clever tactics, there's the downside of it that led to the Netherlands being defeated.
This time, the developed Swiss tactic didn't work as it was meant to, because the Netherland's slow full-backs were exposed by the pacy Pedro and Jesus Navas (Giovanni Van Bronkhorst) and the clever Iniesta, who left Gregory Van Der Wiel for dead at times with his neat inter-changes and overall trickery.
Holland's own "doble pivote" was undone on many occasions by defence-splitting passes from Xavi, Alonso, etc, that brought star striker David Villa into the game and at the very end saw the aforementioned Andres Iniesta score that famous winning goal, due to the clustered nature of the Netherlands' very defensive positioning and formation.
Also, Van Marwijk's intelligent take on the Swiss model with a high defensive line to give the Dutch greater attacking verve proved to be a disastrous mistake, with the speed of Spain's widemen allowing them to get in behind the Dutch defence and again being a contributing factor to that dreaded winning goal.
And lastly, this new-and-improved, more positive Switzerland style of play didn't bring the one key man, Wesley Sneijder, into play as much as it should've done.
The Inter Milan midfield maestro saw nowhere near enough of the ball as would've been required for the Netherlands to win, courtesy of the lack of possession Holland had, as well as the wide focus of play which meant winger Robben was viewed as the more important target to pass to for unlocking Spain's defence.
To read how Spain got their tactics right, click here.
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