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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The morning after

For somebody who has few material desires in life – and is able to be stoic about most things anyway – I must admit to feeling a deep sense of sadness and pain at the moment.

It is the “morning after” syndrome, I guess.

Last night, in a cruel 116th minute of the football World Cup Final 2010, the hopes of millions of Dutch supporters came crashing to the ground.

It is less than 12 hours after the event – and I have had a very good night’s sleep – but the morning is here, and so is the pain.

To be absolutely objective, Spain played the better football on the day and deserved to win. They were technically better, they had better control of the game, they played a more attractive game, they played a far less “physical” game than the Dutch. In every respect they were the better side.

As the Dutch coach, Bert van Marwijk, inspite of being shattered and naturally bitter about some of the referee’s calls, so magnanimously said “The better side won”.

Yes, the better side won. But that is small consolation for the supporters of the losing side.

In football, often the better side does not win. Against the run of play, the less impressive side has one moment of brilliance that seals the game. After that, the only thing that matters is the result. Over the years, Italy has built a reputation for winning football games without being the least bit impressive.

Dutch supporters would have wished for something similar last night. Unfair to the Spanish, but if one team has to lose, you certainly do not want it to be your team. That is the basic definition of the term “supporter”.

One can analyse the match on and on. What if Robben had not missed that easy chance before half-time? Nine out of ten times, he would have scored in that situation. And, when it mattered the most, when the biggest prize on earth was at stake, his sharp brain and quick feet decided to take a holiday? How cruel was that for Dutch supporters?

When I saw that moment, I could not believe my eyes – and it became a sort of confirmation for me that this was not to be Holland’s evening. Earlier in the tournament, they had ridden some luck and even had shots on goal getting in – but this was not to be one of those evenings.

The Dutch players have only themselves to blame. I am a firm believer in the clich̩ that you are only as good as you are allowed to be. The Spanish were good, no doubt Рbut the Dutch, much like the Germans in the previous Spanish game, allowed themselves to be controlled rather than to take charge.

I know it sounds easy from this distance – and I am no football expert – but I do know the Dutch are much better than this. They just need to flow a little bit and then they are a delight to watch. They are not bad at passing the ball around – and their individual brilliance then comes into play.

But none of this was on display yesterday. Maybe it was nerves in the beginning (understandably) – but once you are into the game – you need to play to your strengths. Which is the midfield and the flanks on both sides, where you have some of the best players around – Sneijder, Robben, Kuyt. These were the players I had hopes from – I never really expected much from van Persie. He has been out of sorts all tournament and, though he was marginally better yesterday, he was clearly not a forward, in the mould of a David Villa, who would race past and cut through the opposition defence.

But yesterday the Dutch allowed themselves to get caught in the Spanish trap and, as a result, were never allowed to break away. Ok, they had that one Robben occasion (two, if you consider that second-half opportunity, also to Robben) but for the rest of the game they were playing into Spanish hands all the time. Their passes went to Spanish players, they even struggled to get possession, forget keeping it.

That was possibly one of the reasons for their getting “physical”. They were just not able to get possession of the ball otherwise. Whether it was part of their strategy or not, it made for nasty, ugly football – this is NOT what the game is about. But desperate situations call for desperate measures – and this was about as desperate as it got for the Dutch when they realised the grip the Spanish were having on them.

And that is to the credit of Spain. I really do not want to - and should not be - taking anything away from the Spanish players. They were just fantastic. It was their first World Cup final too, nerves were playing on them too. But they managed to stick to their game plan (I presume it was to do what they do well – just get the passing going, keep possession, choke the opposition, then launch a sudden offensive).

In a way, I am happy that Iniesta got that goal (well, considering there had to be a winning Spanish goal). Iniesta is a really good player, always dangerous - and often gets overshadowed by the bigger names in the side like Villa and Torres. So, although I will hate him forever :-), it is probably a case of "better Iniesta than any other Spanish player".

For whatever it is worth (and only a minor consolation it is for sure), I think most Dutch people would rather lose to Spain than to another country.

For one, Spain is a very popular vacation country for the Dutch. So there are plenty of good memories to remember Spain by.

And then, the all-important footballing reason. Barcelona.

Yes, Spanish football for the Dutch means Barcelona – and to a somewhat lesser extent, Real Madrid. As a football club (and also as a tourist city), Barcelona is HUGELY popular amongst the Dutch pubic. I think it is THE most popular club for the Dutch outside their own country. Lots of Dutch players and coaches have been part of Barcelona’s footballing history. Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Rinus Michels, Louis van Gaal, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman, Patrick Kluivert and many more have enriched the club over the years, whether as player or coach. So there is a lot of goodwill there for Spain.

All that of course does not mean that that the pain of ending up losing finalist for the third time in their history is any less.

For the younger generations of today, the stories of the fabulous Dutch team of the 1970s, their exploits in the World Cups of 1974 and 1978 are just stories. In both those World Cups of the 70s, the story is often narrated as “what might have been”.

Yesterday they had a chance to see things set right.

To exorcise the devil of “nearly there but not quite there” , of “so near but yet so far”.

To shed their tag of “best country to have never won the World Cup”.

To share their moment in the sun and their place amongst the champions of the game, holding aloft the one Cup that means so much to everybody in football.

Yesterday, for millions of Dutch, it could have been the moment and memory of their lifetime.

It was not to be.

One can rationalize. Like I have done here - yes, the Spanish were better, they deserved to win. One team had to lose. And Spanish hearts would have been broken, if not Dutch hearts.

Yes, all that is fine. And true. But it still does not take the pain away.

My fingers are trembling as I type this. I have still not got over it. And I will admit to some moistness in my eyes.

I would like to say “maybe next time” but it sounds hollow. Right now, I feel I am not going to see Holland lifting the World Cup in my lifetime. I know it sounds negative and I should be having more confidence in the boys but that is how I feel right now.

Make no mistake, I am proud of what the boys have achieved here – they won every single game all the way to the finals. The only team to do so.

And if somebody had offered me a “losing finalist” place before the tournament, I would have grabbed it with both hands. I (and millions of other Dutch supporters like me) never expected them to come this far. We have seen so much disillusionment over the last twenty years that we have almost come to expect to be knocked out midway.

But now having come this far….having come this close….and to end up with yet another “what might have been”. The pain will of course go away eventually - but for now, it is fresh. And it hurts!

Speaking personally, I feel not so much just for me (this is not about me!) but for so many of my fellow Dutch men and women, my friends. For older generations who lived through 1974 and 1978.

For a large part of the world, the football World Cup may be just a sporting spectacle. But for some, it has a deeper significance.

For a small country like the Netherlands, it means a lot – it is their moment of pride that has been snatched away from them. I am not sure bigger countries (and I come from one myself) understand how much this means to a small country.

On another note, the entire tournament was a dream, it was beautifully organized, the crowds were fantastic, there was tremendous support for Holland in South Africa (if not much elsewhere around the world where I believe, most people were rooting for Spain).

In the end, football was the winner – everything about the World Cup was almost perfect.

And let’s face it, it was great to have a new World Cup Champion.

I would have just liked it to be a bit more orange.

Like I said, almost perfect.