Alex Dipietro is a Montreal writer and journalism student. He also happens to be a huge soccer fan, who followed the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa closely from start to finish. He was among the thousands of fans of the Dutch team disappointed with the 1-nil victory by Spain in the final. Despite that, the Dutch performance in the tournament has left him with a lot of good things to say about the side’s peformance.
The view from Alex Dipietro:
People can form their hypotheses about what they felt led to Holland’s demise yesterday, but I think the turning point came from one unnecessary act. Johnny Heitinga was one of eight Dutch players booked in the final with Spain, but you just knew by the sheer nature of his first yellow that if there was going to be any player booked for a second time in the game it would be Heitinga. If I recall, Heitinga did in fact foul a Spanish player moments before he was booked, but he wasn’t cautioned for it. Official Howard Webb awarded a throw-in instead of a free-kick but Heitinga followed Webb around for reasons I’m not quite sure of. He must have then said something out of turn and Webb decided to reach into his pocket. A silly play, true, but it was that play that preceded a somewhat warranted second yellow to the same man Heitinga 10 minutes from a penalty-shootout lottery.
Every four years since 1998 I’ve followed the World Cup closely and been plagued by disappointment. And even though Holland lost yesterday, this year was different. I pictured the Netherlands in the final and thought it could have very well been ‘the year’ for the Flying Dutchmen. Granted we didn’t get to see the high-scoring thrillers that the Dutch normally put forth—a 5-0 thrashing of South Korea in ’98 comes to mind, but Bert Van Marwijk introduced a style that garnered his team a spot in the final. That’s what matters most. The Dutch turned it up when they needed to—think back to the quarter-final game versus Brazil, or, more recently, the semifinal against Uruguay. When the Dutch were in need of goals at this World Cup they certainly did produce. That sort of thing doesn’t just happen by accident. The 4-2-3-1 formation, which was also employed by other teams at this World Cup, enabled the Netherlands to have a defence not bereft of manpower and an offence that could easily be reinforced with a single substitution. For example, Van Marwijk used attacking midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart sparingly since the return of Arjen Robben, but the Dutch manager didn’t waste any time in putting Van der Vaart on for holding midfielder Demy de Zeeuw when his side was heading into the second half deadlocked with Uruguay. Even though Van der Vaart didn’t score, his presence was enough to divert the defenders’ attention from the likes of Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt and lone-striker Robin Van Persie. Yesterday, Van Marwijk did virtually the same thing.
A 25-game winning streak may not have been enough for Holland at this World Cup, but veterans like Sneijder and Robben will most likely be available for 2014. And perhaps that could prove to be the year Holland captures a trophy so elusive, that they’ve desired it since the team’s first World Cup appearance in 1934.