The beautiful game but not when it comes to the World Cup

WHILE Spain rejoices over having won the World Cup, it seems somewhat churlish to remind those who are overjoyed that the game played in the final against the Netherlands was anything but the beautiful game.

It was an awful game, presided over by a referee who was out of his depth. One cannot forget the influence that a referee has in a game; the man can set the tone by impressing on the players the fact that no nonsense will be tolerated. Once that is done, the referee can melt into the background and let the game go on.

But Englishman Howard Webb appeared to want to be as prominent as the players. He engaged in verbal duels with several of them and never bothered to lay down the law early on in the game. The result? There were nine yellow cards given to Dutch players and five to Spanish players; one Dutch player was given a second yellow which meant a red and hence he had to leave the field.

I was reminded of the 1990 final when Germany played Argentina for a second tournament running; in 1986, the Argentines, inspired by Diego Maradona, defeated the Germans by the odd goal of five. In 1990, the Germans put one man, Guido Buchwald, to mark Maradona and that took him out of the game altogether. But, despite this, the Germans only won through a dubious penalty which they gained through the dying swan, Juergen Klinsmann.

Many people admire the type of game that Spain plays, keeping possession all the time and making the occasional foray up the field. Football is supposed to be about scoring goals, not hanging on to the ball and boring people witless. The quality of passing is definitely to be admired but not when 90 percent of it is backwards in a bid to prevent the opposition from doing anything. It’s a dog in the manger attitude and does the game no good. Of course, no matter what methods a team uses, it takes home $30 million when it wins. The losers get $6 million less.

But the Netherlands does not deserve any praise either. They came prepared to literally get Spain off the field by playing a robust, physical game. Here the referee is to blame; the moment the Dutch started fouling with gay abandon, he should have sent off one of their players. But Webb was more interested in arguing with players and proved that just because one is an Englishman it does not make one an expert in the administration of the game.

For all the horrible methods used, there were at least seven clear chances when goals could have been scored. If just three of those chances had been taken, the public would have had something worth watching. But in the end, there was just one goal, scored a few minutes from the end of the two-hour-long game.

By the time 2014 comes around, if FIFA has not put in place some kind of system to use video replays to avoid the kind of horrible refereeing errors seen in the 2010 tournament, then football will be in danger of becoming the laughing stock of all the codes.

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