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that's it, I'm calling it


I'm calling it: Spain vs Netherlands in the final.

Which would be crazy awesome, and completely bizarre. I thought their first-game loss might be just what Spain needed to sting them into real action, and kind of hoped that it would be enough to overcome their usual mid-tournament implosion. The cohesion that has been so long lacking from the national side – due to the intense rivalry of top squads Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga – seems to finally have been overcome by their '08 Euro Cup win.

La Liga is almost certainly the best national league in Europe, if not the world, and a far higher percentage of native players play for their clubs than is usual, due to the prestige of the league, and the pride they take in playing in it. Winning La Liga was, for a long time, considered as good as (or even better) than winning the World Cup. Where the bulk of the Spanish national side is drawn from the two best Spanish clubs. Who hate each other. (Of course, this is all stuff I picked up here and there, and may well be misremembered, but that's how I understand it.)

So in spite of having one of the best national leagues, and the some of the highest quality players in the world, the inability to come together as a team absolutely hamstrings their World Cup attempts, even while the quality regularly gets them to the World Cup. Especially when subjected to the pressure of the expectations that such quality creates, in themselves and in their supporters. The furthest they've ever been, in this structure of the World Cup, is the quarter finals. Just incredible – and a really fascinating story to follow. Now that they are finally prizing the national team more highly – and international tournaments – they can only do extremely well. In my very humble opinion, of course. And if Julio Cesar for Brazil is currently called the best keeper in the world (who I haven't followed much, so I wouldn't know), Iker Casillas is among the best keepers I've ever seen. Strikers get a lot of attention, but keepers make an unbelievable difference to the success of a team.

And then, well – the Dutch have such potential, are such a tough side, and are extremely talented. They created "Total Football" back in the ... seventies, I think? – where the idea was that evey player on the park should be able to play well in any position. Which they proceeded to do, switching all over the place and completely destroying their oposition's marking game, and was by anyone's measure some of the most extraordinary play ever seen. Although they don't play it any more, the combination of technical aptitude and creativity Total Football represented are still part of the temperament of the national team. Like Spain, their passing game is first class. And Wesley Sneijder has just been outstanding to watch in the whole thing, creating a lot of plays and chances, moving the ball through to the front very, very well, and extremely dangerous when he gets scent of the net. He's one of the best players in the tournament, for my money.

Of course, I have emotional attachment to both sides, and so my spider-sense is probably way biased right now. It'll probably be Germany vs Uruguay, or something, now that I've officially staked my prediction. :(

Anyway, it's still an amazing journey to watch. Of all the great unscripted dramas on the world stage, this has to be one of the best and most compelling. Thank goodness it only comes around once every four years – I don't think I could take it otherwise!

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January 2016
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