Monday, July 12, 2010



by Wayne Robins

The most serious injury in Sunday's World Cup final won by Spain 1-0 over the Netherlands (or los Países Bajos, as a Spanish language network called it) was the writer's cramp sustained by those covering the game trying to keep up with the blizzard of yellow cards and a crucial red handed out by English referee Howard Webb. Near the end of a dull and scoreless first half, ESPN announcer Martin Tyler noted that the game had more yellow cards than shots on goal—and Webb was just getting started.

I am not arrogant or informed enough to criticize Webb, who is said to be one of soccer's best-trained and hardest working referees. But 14 yellow cards, when the previous record for a World Cup final was 6?

Even if almost all of the calls were technically legitimate, one hates to see any game, especially a championship final, so dominated by the officiating. Barring overt fouls intended to cause injury or prevent scores, the philosophy of the overseers should be: "Let them play."

The incredibly boring match was tied 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes of regulation time. It wasn't until the 116th minute, during the 30-minute extra-time that Spain's Andres Iniesta scored the final's only goal. (Iniesta immediately received a yellow card for taking off his shirt in celebration). This was not long after Spain took a one-man advantage with the ejection of Holland's John Heitinger, who picked up his second yellow and automatic ejection around the 109th minute. A few minutes later, it was the Spanish goalie and team captain, Casillas, overcome with weeping and sobbing, as much release from the severe tension of his superb job as it was joy at his team's victory.

By contrast, Saturday's third place battle about which I had snickered, between Germany and Uruguay, was a loose and lively affair won by Germany 3-2, with Uruguay fighting for the equalizer until the last whistle. (Spain had defeated Germany 1-0 in the Durban semifinal July 7, as it had by the same score in their 2008 Euro final in Vienna.)

Against Spain, Germany was uncharacteristically lackluster, relying too much on defense—and a passive defense at that—and unable to counterattack, consistently passing the ball backwards to regroup but never managing to sustain forward physical or emotional momentum. Die Mannschaft had to play without its 20 year-old wunderkind Thomas Müller, serving a one-game suspension because of consecutive yellow cards in previous matches. How much did they miss his strong, fast young legs against Spain? Deeply and profoundly: With his goal against Uruguay, Müller's five goals and three assists won him the Golden Boot award as the tournament's top scorer as well as the best young player. Uruguay's tall, long haired and exciting Diego Forlan, who also scored five goals in the tourney, won and deserved the best player award.

The strangest result of this tournament for this American is that I am as much looking forward to the start of (Barclay's) English Premier League season, which begins in mid-August, as I am the kickoff of American football season a few weeks later. I thank my U.K. friends at for carrying Wayne's World Cup dispatches. I am eager to hear their suggestions as to which teams to root for in the Premier League, as well as insights from those passionate about the professional leagues throughout Europe and Latin America, where we will be able to see many of these World Cup players in the coming months.

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