Joga Bonito

“Soccer can be the most gracious lady, and it can also be the biggest bitch.”
-Glen Myernick

There are sporting events that stop the world. Today is no exception.  The world will hold its breath for two hours. We’ll ooh and ahh and sway and jump and yell and scream and pump our fists in joy or sink in anger at the same time. The World Cup is every four years and any analyst will say that the four years of buildup is what makes it so excruciating and so tense and that’s a load of bollocks. The players, and many fans, lives have been leading to this moment. A moment that has eluded so many on previous occasions. It appears that Cleveland will have to wait longer than anticipated for their first championship since 1964 and it’s tough not to feel for those fans but it doesn’t compare to what is about to happen tomorrow. Tomorrow a team will win the World Cup for the first time and send their entire nation into whatever is beyond ecsatcy (Uberecstacy? Double-ecstacy?) and another, maybe more importantly, will experience heartbreak. Cleveland gets three chances to win a championship every year. Contrast that to Spain and the Netherlands, who only get one chance every four years. Cleveland can take a backseat for a day in the bus that carries sports locales that are desperate for glory.

In boxing they say that styles make fights. This is going to be like those epic Gatti-Ward fights. Lots of punches thrown, always trying to get a clean knockout, huge shifts of momentum, and stretches of domination where it may seem like one team will never get out of it corner. There’s going to be so much offense that the game should force a few goals and more than a few saves.

Spain are perennial underachievers. They routinely enter the tournament as one of the favorites and they flame out miserably every four years. They even lost their first match to the Swiss in this tournament and caused the entire country to have a 5-day long heart attack. They’re still not playing terribly well (for them) but they are getting better with each match and that must be weighing on the Dutch minds. David Villa has been on fire and goes into the Final tied for the tournament lead in goals. He’s scored in the box and outside of the box. He’s almost been good enough to make people forget Fernando Torres’ forgettable tournament. Coming off an injury with his club team Liverpool, he was not in form coming into the tournament and it has showed. He almost has looked lost out there at times and when he actually does find the ball his touch has consistently let him down. If El Nino gets on track, it will be tough for the Dutch to deal with both him and Villa.

The one place where Spain is susceptible is on the counter. They like to throw numbers forward and hold possession and try to overwhelm their opponents. This can leave them vulnerable against structured teams that like to clog the middle and force them far out on the wings. If game planned correctly, Spain can be stunned by a goal (see: USA 2009; Switzerland 2010). Defend like bandits and try to run at them when you can. You can’t play better than they can so there’s no use in trying.

Throw that strategy out the window. The Dutch are the most attacking team Spain has faced since probably the last time these two squared up. They won’t be content to concede possession and try to counterpunch their way to a victory. This is the team that can matchup with Spain, pass for pass, skill for skill, haircut for haircut. The Dutch have so many pieces going forward, players that would start for every team, except for Spain, are only bench players here. Wesley Sneijder is tied with David Villa for the tournament lead in goals and has his fingerprints on everything this team does. Everything this 5’7” Dutchman does is big. He makes big tackles, takes big shots, and sends in big passes. He’s a match-winner in every sense of the word.

If you read my World Cup Preview, you’ll know that I picked this to be the final and that I picked Spain. I’’m not swaying from that. I can’t tell you how it will play out or what the final score will be but all I can tell you that if you like sports, you need to watch this. No sitting back. No holding the ball. Diving? Probably, Arjen Robben (Dutch) is scheduled to play. In fact, I think he grabbed his shin and fell to the ground writhing in pain as he read that last sentence. Other than that, there is no reason to watch this game. If the Donovan goal against Algeria didn’t make you a soccer fan, this will. Two flowing teams that love to score and joga bonito. Today, you will see what the rest of the world sees. You’ll see the beautiful game.

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