A Victory for Anti-Football

A deserved victory for Spain, but anti-football was the real winner - not just of this World Cup, but of the entire season. One can imagine Jose Mourinho's satisfaction at seeing the World's international footballing elite duplicate the tactics which brought him and Inter an historic treble this year. However whilst tactical sophistication, physical dominance and military drilled defences are all in their own way admirable, the constant niggling fouling, haranguing of referees and unsportsmanlike behaviour plunged to new depths in the last month.

It did so because nobody commented on it, save the odd commentator. We have become so used to the sight of Sergio Busquets squirming into the turf, his face contorted with burning agony, that we are no longer surprised when he springs up and slots into his space-closing, Xavi-feeding role. Busqets would probably win the award for the most cynical player in the tournament, though he faces stiff competition - notably from other members of his own team.

That is why this triumph for Spain leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth. The best footballing side in the world won, which is as it should be, but their cheating (now apparently called gamesmanship) and treatment of referees did them absolutely no credit whatsoever. Fouls occur in the game and at times some Spanish players may have been targeted by less skilled opposition, but from the first minutes of last nights final, and actually all the games I've seen from them, five players surrounded the referee at every opportunity.

This criticism does not absolve the offending tacklers from any blame. When lesser countries play against far better sides it is natural to expect solid defending which might test the boundaries of the rules of the game. Thats what the referees are there to monitor, which on the whole they did fairly well I thought. However Holland's unedifying performance last night was a disgrace to the history and prestige of the tournament. One red card, given when Howard Webb really had no choice, could have been three quite easily. The total-football stereotype has long been irrelevant, but after last night it will surely be consigned to history. Instead the anti-football culture reigns supreme.

So congratulations to Spain, it is a shame that noone really wanted to play football against them. Hopefully next year wide-players and new systems will conquer the double defensive shield of this World Cup and, much less likely, the cynical cheating which has become so rife in the game at all levels, and is no doubt taught in football's academies, will be stamped out. The problem with this last hope is that the responsibility lies with Fifa, and the receipts from this World Cup will probably make it a successful one.

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