JOHANNESBURG -- Will the 2010 FIFA World Cup final be remembered for Spain winning its first ever world championship or for 14 yellow cards handed out?
Before getting to the latter, its hard to argue Spain are not deserving champions. Some will argue Germany was the most impressive team in South Africa. But Spain was methodical in taking down the German powerhouse.
As for the final match, it was a rather lethargic end to what was a very mediocre World Cup, from an on-field perspective.
For all the colour and flair off the field in South Africa, the pitch was never a place matching in excitement. Sure, there were moments of sporting brilliance, goals and saves that made you jump out of your seat.
But the overall quality at this World Cup was sub-par.
Even in the final, Spain and Netherlands, two of the most talent-laden sides in the world, got caught up in a battle of technical might rather than letting a natural flow dictate who was superior. I can appreciate and enjoy matches as such but the masses and casual soccer fans cannot.
But the biggest farce, otherwise known as astonishingly bad officiating, cannot be tolerated.
Has their been a bigger issue at this World Cup than sub-standard, insultingly bad officiating? Heading into the final, it was comical hearing FIFA claim referees got 96% of the calls right at the World Cup.
Maybe its time for FIFA to start re-crunching the numbers after referee Howard Webb’s porous performance in the final.
I generally do not have too much negative to say about match-official Webb. But Sunday, he didn’t let the players play, became far too whistle happy and was too liberal in his use of cards.
It was the worst performance by an English official since Graham Poll’s third yellow in the last World Cup. And three yellows would have been a welcome sight compared to the 14 yellow cards Webb handed out. Webb’s overall grade for his performance was an epic fail and is an embarrassment to the game.
Proceedings were set of course after Webbs second yellow card of the game. Webb gave Spanish stalwart Carles Puyol a yellow in the 17th minute for a careless challenge from the back. A foul? Absolutely, but never a caution. By showing Puyol yellow, Webb set the bar far too low at what constitutes a caution. Thirteen more yellows followed, and the game suffered.
In fairness, it was never going to be an easy match for Webb to officiate. The game was played far too tight. And once Webb made himself too much part of the proceedings, blowing his whistle at will and handing out cards like it was Christmas, the players smelled blood and embellishment took over.
The ease of drawing whistles gave players reason to hit the turf; to dive if you will. When players know the whistle will blow, they will use it to their advantage.
There is no excuse for diving or play-acting or embellishment. My comments are not meant to do so. They are meant to point out both teams, particularly Spain, took advantage of weakness in the referee. Webb lost control, thus it became win, however necessary, for both sides.
The funny thing is when Webb could have exacted his might on the game, having the chance to show Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong red for a harsh challenge in the first half, he did not. De Jong got a yellow instead. And the balance was sent off. What was a yellow card for one team became an issue because it wasn’t for the other. It’s this kind of inconsistency that takes away from games.
An official of Webbs stature has to know better than to dole out cards as such. When a referee starts giving out cautions early, it disrupts the flow of the game. And all the initiative shown in the opening minutes of Sunday’s final that produced multiple early scoring chances was taken away, replaced by chippy play.
Webb got it all wrong. Handing out cautions isn’t a way to control the game. They incite edginess. They ultimate kill rhythm and make for a cagey affair.
As bad as Webb was, it has to be said there were moments of sheer brilliance that cannot be ignored.
The biggest stars were the goalkeepers. Spanish keeper and captain Iker Casillas and counterpart Maarten Stekelenburg were spectacular.
Both keepers superbly kept the ball out of the net on clear-cut scoring opportunities for Arjen Robben and David Villa respectively, two of the best goal scorers in the game, giving each of their teams a chance at victory.
And it’s an absolutely shame Stekelenburg was finally beaten after Holland went a man down, cheapening the marker. When Johnny Heitinga was sent off, you almost hoped for penalty shots, so a card would not be a determining factor.
But it was, and Spain’s Andres Iniesta is a player capable of taking advantage of weakness. It would have been apropos has Iniesta’s brace been offside. Although initially behind the back-line, Iniesta was back onside for the final ball. And Iniesta, a genius on the ball showed a true goal-scorers finish. It was clinical.
And that was the difference in the match. It was compelling. Both teams missing easy chances, and it was predictable one moment of brilliance would win it.
As for the Dutch, third time in a World Cup final wasn’t a charm.
And for the Spanish, they are the eighth country to lift soccer grandest prize. And their accomplishment shouldn’t be diminished whatsoever by the official’s performance, no matter what kind of nasty Webb Howard tangled.