WC2014 Day 2: Spain vs. Netherlands, etc.

First off, I didn't see Game 2, during which, as you know, I'm sure, Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0. My impressions from the highlight reels are fairly straightforward. A few more controversial calls to be added to the list, two of which disallowed goals. It looks like Cameroon had a few good chances, but, ultimately, Mexico prevailed after one clean goal around halfway into the second half. I could read someone else's commentary and then comment on that, but there's no point. Ultimately, the highlights are just that, and it really takes watching a full game to understand what actually happened; the pace, the rhythm, the sense of control, or lack thereof, exhibited by both teams. Sometimes goals are aberrant in relation to the actual feel of the match, sometimes goals are logical outcomes.

The real story so far today is, of course, Game 3, which matched defending World Cup champions Spain against the team they beat in the finals back in 2010, the Netherlands.

At the risk of using up all my cliches early in the tournament, I'll just say it now: it was a tale of two halves. I doubt anyone could have imagined going into the second half, with the score tied 1-1, that Spain would receive the drubbing they did by the end. But let's not get too far ahead.

The first half was a masterpiece of tightly-played and unforgiving European football. Each time a pass, or even a touch, was done less that perfectly, possession seemed to change, yet it was hard to tell at times whether both teams were holding out for a draw or if both teams were simply playing patiently, waiting for their opportunities. The ball, the pace, the use of space throughout the pitch, all first-rate on the part of both teams, with the edge in terms of time of possession and self-posessedness going to the Spanish.

A few early fouls by the Dutch reminded me of why I found them so disappointing 2010:  even as they advanced all the way to the finals, I couldn't quite get over the brutish, hard-fouling way in which they did so. That year's final included nine bookings of Dutch players.

The tension of the first half was finally broken by yet another controversial call, as Costa's well-sold reaction to a tackle granted Spain a penalty kick and their first (and only) goal of the match.

At this point, the tone began to shift, albeit slightly. The Netherlands attacked more, but it was still the same two teams, playing the same game. That is until the Dutch broke free of Spain's seemingly-impenetrable midfield and Blind, racing down the field, heeded Van Persie's skyward-pointed finger and fed a beautiful ball to the head of the latter, resulting in one of the more perfectly-excuted goals likely to be seen this year.

Heading into the half, the score was 1-1, but all of the momentum was on the side of the Dutch.

During halftime, the commentators at the CBC wondered whether the two teams would play for a draw and noted that it would be a result both teams would be happy with. Of course this line of thought made sense, but, when one really thinks, not at all.

Simply put, the Netherlands: lost to Spain 1-0 in the final four years ago, totally fell apart at Euro 2012, knew they were facing Brazil in the round of 16 should they place second in their group, and had finally broken the rhythm of Spain's passing. If you were them, why not win?

And so the second half. I won't recount it all, or even any of it, really. Suffice it to say, the Netherlands came out of the locker room with the right sort of aggression and the Spanish fell apart. Towards the end, it was hard to tell the difference: were the Dutch trying to run up the score, or were the Spanish making it too easy on them?

I've inferred from the in-game commentary, that the big concern for Spain, who have dominated international football for a few years now, is the advancing age of many of their players. It may be true, but I don't think that the flexibility and stamina missing from the Spanish side today was physical, but rather mental. The Netherlands broke the Spanish style, and the Spaniards never bothered to try and adapt. They kept playing their game, waiting for mistakes that never came, expecting that they'd get the ball back, and that they'd be able to keep it. They came off like a DJ with his head down, playing records to what was a packed dance floor, who hasn't noticed that everyone has left.

I've decided to do the posts by day rather than by game. More on that later.

Suffice it to say, I'm now watching the last minutes of Chile vs. Australia. I didn't watch the whole thing, and, to be honest, it's a bit much to watch every game. I don't have a lot of better things to do, just not nothing else.

Chile has just scored, making the game 3-1 in their favor, and the match is now over over.

Initially, Chile came out of the gate with such intensity and speed that I began to feel as if I didn't really know much about football, that if a team could play like that, well… I was amazed, almost inspired. Of course, I wasn't taking into account Australia's relative inexperience, and, eventually, when Chile slowed down, well, I realized that for all their training (and all the pizza and cigarettes I consume), our lungs are still the same organs on some level.

The match itself was well-played, though a bit frantic at times. The energy of young teams trying to prove themselves now burdened by the knowledge of the Dutch assault on Spain, and that, yes, this will be a tough group. It will be interesting to see Chile come into contact with a more deliberate style. Spain vs. Chile will be a good one to watch.

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