July 14, 2010
BERKELEY - CalBears.com spoke to the Cal soccer brain trust - men's head coach Kevin Grimes and women's head coach Neil McGuire - about the World Cup in the last entry of its series about the recently completed tournament in South Africa. Spain defeated the Netherlands, 1-0, in extra time in the July 11 final in Johannesburg.
CalBears.com: What did you think of the final?
Kevin Grimes: It was a disappointing game from what most people have said and what a lot of people have observed. Holland looked to resort to some brutal tactics to try and get a World Cup trophy when they probably should've just played like they played all tournament.
Neil McGuire: It did not turn into the spectacle we all hoped for in terms of the beautiful game, but it was exciting to see all the same. Not every soccer match will be a high-scoring affair, but it was an interesting tactical battle that was fiercely contested.
CalBears.com: Was Spain the better team?
KG: Yes, I think Spain was the better team on the day. Again, if Holland would've just played like they had played all tournament, I think we would've seen a better game, a more entertaining game, and that would've given Holland a better chance to win the match.
NM: To my mind, Spain was the far superior team for the entire World Cup, and the only team who tried to play to win.
CalBears.com: While Kevin's prediction that the Dutch would win the final did not come true, were you happy with the Netherlands' overall performance at the World Cup?
KG: Yes. Overall they have to be pleased with reaching the World Cup final. They hadn't been there in 32 years. They were clearly one of the best if not the best team in the World Cup until the final. Whether it was a coaching move or the players decided themselves during the course of the first half to try to disrupt Spain rather than try and impose themselves on the game is unknown. Overall they can be pretty pleased with reaching the final that a lot of people thought they wouldn't reach.
NM: Holland's performances leading up to the final were very good. They played strong defense and were able to score some tremendous goals. To reach the World Cup final, as well as going through Brazil to get there, is an exceptional feat for any nation, but I do wish they had played Spain straight up.
CalBears.com: Did the Dutch play such a physical game because they knew Spain was the stronger team, at least on the day?
KG: It appeared that way. Spain, in the first 20 minutes, was really playing at a high level, with great soccer. Perhaps Holland thought it would have difficulty getting possession of the ball and decided to change the way they were playing. Even though Spain had taken it to them the first 20 minutes, things can change over time. They should've weathered the storm the first half and tried to get a handle on the game later. They didn't give themselves a chance to do that. They panicked a bit and decided to muddy up the game. Not only do they not usually do that, they weren't very good at it anyway, because the end result is they lost.
Bigger than the loss was they had a very poor performance in the final, other than the three to four chances they had to score. I thought Spain was really the difference as to why Holland resorted to its barbarian tactics. Spain was great in that final and looked great in the entire tournament. Spain never got caught up by the fouls and cards, wore Holland down and eventually got the victory.
NM: Spain is the most fluid passing team I have ever seen. Their flair and creativity in the final third of the field is of a level rarely seen, and they can open your defense up with one pass or flick. The Dutch seemed intent on doing anything they could to prevent Spain from finding their rhythm, and used fouling as one of those tactics. Holland appeared resigned to the fact that Spain would out class them and used brutality to keep Spain at bay.
CalBears.com: Even Brazil, no longer playing the jogo bonito of its past, was criticized for its playing style in this World Cup. Are there other teams besides Spain that can play free-flowing, attacking soccer and still win the World Cup?
KG: It just depends on the circumstance of the team. Spain had the best players and they had the best playing style of any team in the World Cup, that's why they're the World Cup champions. They continued to play their style in the tournament, even though they had teams try and foul them, disrupt them. Ultimately, the beautiful game won out in this World Cup. That's what's everybody is excited about - the team that played exciting, beautiful soccer won the World Cup. Any soccer fan wants that to be the case. In the future, Spain, Brazil, Holland and Germany could certainly win that way.
NM: Spain plays the most attractive soccer I have seen in my lifetime and won the World Cup, so yes. All of their players are comfortable with the ball and are prepared to play. Ramos attacks with great skill, Pique loves to penetrate from deep positions, and their entire midfield is exceptional with the ball and great visionaries of the game. If the Spanish style catches on our game will be better for it.
CalBears.com: Did the Netherlands' Nigel DeJong deserve a red card for his foul on Xabi Alonso?
KG: Yes, he should've been red carded. That was a flagrant and violent foul. That should've been an automatic red card. NM: Yes. This was an act of violence, and it cannot be tolerated in the game. His intent was to stop an imminent counter-attack, but the nature of the tackle bordered on assault and could have seriously injured Alonso. I think FIFA should ban him from international competition for three games regardless of what card he received.
CalBears.com: Did the referee lose control of the game?
KG: No, I don't think he lost control of it. I didn't think the referee was an issue in the match. He had to give those yellow cards. All those yellow cards were justified. In fact, he could've sent off DeJong. That's what those players did: They made the fouls to warrant those cards. That's what was presented to him. He needed to respond accordingly. NM: First I must point out that I cannot imagine the pressure associated with refereeing a World Cup final, especially one in which one team clearly came to destroy as opposed to play. However, that being said, I do think there were critical moments in the game where he could have set the tone for how the game would go, but didn't. I do think that Holland created the climate, not the referee. He had to react to it.
CalBears.com: Uruguay's Diego Forlán earned the Golden Ball as the best player in the World Cup. Who was your choice for the Golden Ball winner?
KG: I would say Forlán would be right up there, for me, along with David Villa from Spain and perhaps Wesley Sneijder from Holland. I thought all three of those guys were really good throughout the tournament. I can't argue for Forlán being the winner. He was good.
NM: This is tough to answer as I think Sneijder and Villa were both worthy contenders for the Golden Ball and instrumental in their teams' success. However, Diego Forlán was well deserving of the award. He is an exceptional player and scored several important goals for his team. He led his country with passion and grace and finally proved himself to be a world-class striker after so many doubted him from his time at Manchester United.
CalBears.com: What is the bigger factor holding the United States back from advancing deeper into the World Cup or even from winning it - not producing enough talented players, not hiring the right coach or the fact that the sport is not as popular here as it is in the rest of the world?
KG: It's not coaching. Bob Bradley did a very good job in the World Cup. I don't think he was the factor.
The No. 1 factor is it's going to take a number of years for a soccer tradition to build in this country, like the other sports - football, baseball and basketball. It took those sports years to develop into national pastimes. That soccer tradition is at the very ground level right now, amongst kids growing up and adults watching it as spectators. We're at the beginning of a growing tradition. But it's coming. ESPN ratings were up 41 percent over the last World Cup, and there were astounding numbers from the USA-Ghana game. Soccer is going to be at the forefront in the very short term, and that's really the difference of us becoming a soccer nation.
When that happens, you're going to find some of our better athletes that perhaps have a tough decision to make. Are they going to play football or basketball, or are they going to play soccer? We're not only going to have the best players playing soccer, we're going to have the best athletes playing soccer. That's the difference between us and the rest of the world. Their best athletes play soccer. That's not the case here because we have other popular sports. Perhaps they played soccer as kids but didn't continue for some reason. We need those kids in the next 10-15 years, perhaps, to stay with soccer. That's going to be the tipping point of the U.S. making it to the next level and challenging for the World Cup trophy.
NM: I believe it is simply time. The U.S. is young in terms of its soccer heritage and pedigree, but I am confident it will grow over time. The improvement over these last 10 years has been significant. We cannot forget that the U.S. advanced further than two of the last three World Cup winners in France (1998) and Italy (2006). The talent is now playing soccer, the coaching is better and the continued growth of the MLS will additionally help.
CalBears.com: Will the United States ever win the World Cup?
KG: I believe so. It's hard to say when they will win it. I think it's probably in the next three to four World Cups, 12 to 16 years, something of that nature. We're probably going to be a lot further along than we are right now. We're already seeing effects of MLS on our development. It's been great. At the end of the day, in this World Cup the U.S. team won a group that included England. Few people around the world thought that would happen. Even our best players playing in Europe right now, most of them started in Major League Soccer. Over time, that will pay dividends.
NM: Yes, although not for some time. First, we have to improve the depth of talent needed to select a great squad. We also will have to allow these players time to learn how to win at the highest level of the game.