2010 FIFA World Cup: Forget the Ref, the Dutch Only Have Themselves to Blame

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2010 FIFA World Cup: Forget the Ref, the Dutch Only Have Themselves to Blame
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Can somebody please explain why the Dutch seem to believe Howard Webb cost them the World Cup?

Spain won the World Cup final in Soccer City on Sunday night thanks to Andres Iniesta, who scored the only goal of the game after 116 minutes of play.

When the contest began, support for the two sides appeared quite balanced, but that was to change after half an hour.

The icon of Dutch football, Johan Cruyff, described his own country’s tactics as “anti-football.” He argued that their contribution to the final was “ugly,” “vulgar,” and that they played in “a very dirty fashion.” Football supporters the world over have also lined up to criticise the style of play that the Dutch implemented and supported Cruyff’s assertions.

However, you should never criticise a team for playing to it's strengths, and the Dutch did just that.

To defeat the Spanish, you must stop them from playing football. It is necessary to get in their faces, be aggressive, and make life uncomfortable for them.

The Dutch may have taken these tactics to another level, but it was effective in stopping Spain's play.

However, when they played football themselves, they got results.

A delightful pass from Wesley Sneijder sent Arjen Robben through on goal, but his shot could not beat the outstretched feet of the Spanish keeper. Had the Dutch focused on using Robben’s pace to trouble their opponents, playing incisive passes through a slow Spanish back line, or trying to control possession in the middle of the park, then they might have been taking the World Cup back to Amsterdam.

Sadly, the Dutch were so intent on preventing the Spanish from playing football at whatever cost, that they forgot to play themselves.

Unfortunately for the Netherlands, after nearly two hours of football, the Spanish broke their opponents down. Even more unfortunate was that instead of accepting this, the Netherlands responded by vehemently protesting to the English officials about a number of decisions that they felt went against them.

The first of these decisions saw Carles Puyol go unpunished for impeding Robben while he was through on goal for a second time. For perhaps the first time in his career, Robben appeared unwilling to go to ground, and Iker Casillas took the ball away from his feet.

Robben felt that Puyol’s actions cost him a goal-scoring opportunity, and that the Spanish centre back should have been sent off. Nothing was given, and Spain escaped.

Sneijder also revealed after the game that he believed the Spanish goal scorer, Iniesta, should have been sent off for an off-the-ball incident with Mark van Bommel, claiming that he kicked the Dutchman.

The incident he referred to was Iniesta’s reaction to van Bommel stamping on his foot in a challenge. Iniesta, the diminutive midfielder who stands at 5'7" tall, then appeared to push the Dutch enforcer in response.

In reality, "push" is almost too strong a word for the incident. He levered him over if anything. Van Bommel, who for the record stands at nearly 6'2", threw himself to the ground. Iniesta went unpunished.

Then things really came to a head with just five minutes of extra time remaining and a penalty shootout looming.

The Netherlands were then upset that the English officials failed to give them a corner when a Sneijder free kick was clearly deflected by the Spanish wall and then tipped around the post by Casillas. Understandably, the Dutch expected a corner, but this was not given.

Moments later, the Dutch regained possession and believed that Eljero Elia was fouled by two Spaniards as he looked to break into the penalty area. Nothing was given.

Spain counter-attacked and looked to feed a pass to Iniesta in the penalty area. The Dutch have since claimed that Iniesta was offside when this pass was played.

The Dutch cut out the original pass, but the rebound fell to Cesc Fabregas, who this time fed Iniesta. Two exceptional touches later, the ball was in the back of the Netherlands’ net.

Spain held on for the next few minutes and they were crowned world champions.

At the conclusion of the match, the Dutch remonstrated furiously with Howard Webb and his officials. In interviews and press conferences since, they have repeated their assertion that they were robbed. 

But, were they?

Well, firstly, it is important to mention that the majority of their complaints are questionable to say the least.

Iniesta hardly touched van Bommel and should not have been punished for his reaction—it was nothing more than handbags.

Secondly, Elia went down fairly easily, having been out muscled by Sergio Ramos, and it would have been a very soft free kick had it been given.

Finally, there was no question about Iniesta being offside in the build-up to the goal. He simply was not offside. It has been proved by television footage.  He was level with the defender, and the ref, along with his crew were correct in awarding a goal.

Certainly the Netherlands could argue they should have been awarded a corner, or maybe Puyol could have been sent off. However, what the Dutch omitted in their account of the match was anything that happened in the first hour of the match.

Robin van Persie was lucky to escape a yellow card in the first minute of the contest. He was booked just over 10 minutes later.

Mark van Bommel, who somehow had only been booked once in the competition before the final, was also responsible for a plethora of fouls. He was booked after 20 minutes for a vicious tackle from behind on Iniesta.

In truth, that tackle alone could have warranted a red card. Instead, van Bommel remained on the pitch, where he committed another foul minutes later. He then unceremoniously halted Iniesta again as the Spaniard turned towards goal and evaded him. It was another yellow card offence, but he escaped punishment.

Wesley Sneijder was responsible for a studs-up, knee-high challenge that could have been justified with a red card. He went completely unpunished.

John Heitinga, though sent off eventually, could also have been dismissed for a second yellow earlier in the game.

Yet, the worst crime of all was committed by Manchester City midfielder Nigel de Jong. He jumped for a high ball with Xabi Alonso and planted his boot into the chest of the Real Madrid man. It was effectively a kung-fu kick on the Spaniard, and although unintentional, it could have caused a horrific injury.

How he escaped a red card is a mystery. Howard Webb was clearly in a very lenient mood.

Van Persie, van Bommel, and Sneijder were perhaps all fortunate to have stayed on the pitch in the first half alone, but de Jong was the luckiest of the lot. Webb gave all four men the benefit of the doubt, when it would not have been a surprise to see just eight Dutchmen facing the Spanish for the rest of the match.

However, the players and coaching staff that represented the Netherlands at the World Cup saw a different version of events. They saw their team robbed of World Cup glory by a referee who pandered to the opposition and made several crucial decisions at key moments of the game.

Again, the question can be asked—Can somebody please explain why the Dutch seem to believe Howard Webb cost them the World Cup?

A much more pertinent question would be how the Netherlands finished the match with as many as 10 men.

The Dutch tactics were always going to bring the referee into play, and they were fortunate that Webb prefers a game to flow and does everything possible to keep 11 men on both teams, resulting in a greater spectacle for all.

Sadly, the Netherlands have overlooked this. They have not said anything about their tackling in the first half, and this is clearly because they know, deep down, that they were fortunate. Sadly, if they admitted this, then they would not have a scapegoat for their defeat.

Webb had a decent game in very difficult circumstances. It was perhaps the hardest World Cup match to referee, ever. He made a couple of mistakes, but his leniency allowed for a better spectacle overall—a spectacle that the Dutch looked desperate to ruin with their brutal game plan.

If Webb had refereed the game in the manner of some other referees from the tournament, it would have been a one-sided, boring, predictable contest, ruined by a flourish of early red cards. Instead, Webb made sure the game was still watchable and gave the Dutch much more of a fighting chance than they deserved.

They weren’t robbed. They weren’t cheated. If anything, they were the lucky ones. The Dutch refusal to accept this is just as frustrating and petty as their tactics on Sunday.

The truth is, they were outplayed. Spain were better than them—they created more chances, played better football, and were more than deserving world champions.

They are more than happy to answer questions about incidents when they believe they were wronged, but perhaps they would like to answer whether or not they think they would have won the World Cup final with eight men.

It must be bitterly disappointing to walk away from a third World Cup final and still be without a win. Unfortunately, that is the nature of football—sometimes things don’t go your way.

Sadly, this Dutch team, blessed with so much natural talent, resorted to physically assaulting their opponents on Sunday instead of playing the great football they are capable of. Now, the entire camp is desperate to have someone to blame for their missed opportunity.

Here is a suggestion.

Blame yourselves.

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