How did Spain and the Netherlands come to be in the final? How can this be? These are my two favorite National teams to watch (after the USA, of course). These are surely the two greatest footballing countries to have never won a World Cup. Okay, yes: I predicted these two would be in the final in my bracket predictor (and consequently I am on the verge of winning $200 in my group’s pool), but I honestly didn’t think these two sides would both be there in the end. I put Spain there because they were my favorite to win it and I put the Dutch in because I figured everybody in my pool would pick Brazil and if the Dutch could pull off an upset, I’d be one of the few pick them for the final. That is called a gamble. But when the Brilliant Orange beat Brazil out of South Africa, I stood on my couch full of sobering glory, screaming: I’m gonna win this fucking thing!
And, look: in a few hours it will be ESP v NED. Who would have thought?
When this World Cup started, I told myself that along with my own country’s fixtures, I’d watch as many of the Dutch and Spanish matches as I possibly could. I simply love watching these teams play, and I knew that as soon as the US inevitably bowed out (sigh), I’d be happy to see the Oranje or the Roja push for a chance at final glory.
But I didn’t really believe the Dutch and Spanish would both be there.
So now how do I choose?
Spiritually, I’d be happy with either side winning the whole damn thing. But straddling the middle is not really a pliable option for the die-hard football fan. We must lean one way or another. I can’t glue myself to a 120 minute nil-nil affair without planting my heart on one side or the other… I might say I’m simply enjoying the action, but if I am honest with myself, I’m not getting the full experience. I must choose.
I mean, when my football-curious fellow Americans (you know the ones: they smell your passion and they almost want to come along for the ride, but they don’t quite get it yet…), well, when these folks ask me how I can sit through a goalless ninety-plus minute game, I explain: you have to be invested in one side or the other. When we understand that, the suspense is deafening. The fate of everything hanging in the air and the world ready to tumble apart over a single goal.
This is largely why I got involved in the bracket predictor. Normally, I play a little fantasy football during the league season. But gambling on sport isn’t really my thing. Sure, I’ll bet a beer on a match here and there (I don’t mind buying a pint when I lose). And I have a bottle of whisk(e)y riding on each Premier League season (but when the loser gets to drink a third of the bottle he just bought for the other guy, it’s not that much of a gamble). But when my housemate asked if I wanted to get involved in the bracket pool he had going with his co-workers, I signed up. Not because I thought I could win it, but because by laying down money and having the chance to win based on each result meant I knew I’d pay closer attention to the fixtures where I didn’t have a strong emotional response for one side or the other.
Suddenly, Serbia/Ghana, Japan/Cameroon, New Zealand/Slovakia, Hondoras/Chile (etc., etc.) became as important to me as (well, not as USA/England but, you know…) Spain/Switzerland and Netherlands/Denmark.
I could side myself with one side or the other and let that suspense take it’s full toll.
And this is the thing that will flush today’s match out into the full experience.
Let’s say I already clinched my bracket (which would be the case if MANthony02 hadn’t had the foresight to put the Dutch in the final and pick them to win). I couldn’t place myself in one camp or the other.
I love the Dutch. Dirk Kuyt, with his dogged work ethic and ability to teleport all over the pitch. Arjen Robben’s nose for finding that perfect moment to twist in, lose his defender and launch a devastating blast on goal. Wesley Sneijder’s endless vision for that distant teammate or chance on goal. The hovering spirit of the 1974 and 1978 Dutch sides who came so close to World Cup glory but couldn’t seal the final deal. (If they win, we’re looking at an exorcism.)
But I love the Spanish. As a Liverpool man, it breaks my heart every time I see Xabi Alonso not in a Liverpool jersey, but I still love to watch him at work and he’s been on fire in this tournament. David Villa’s devastating instincts (not only is he on track for scoring the most goals in the tournament, but he’s easily scored some of the best). Iker Casillas’s ability to bend the laws of physics with his mindblowing, aerobatic stops. And while Fernando Torres hasn’t completely recovered from his knee surgery, I still feel like the man can find the back of the net at least once in this competition.
So without my bracket pool, I’d be torn. I couldn’t lean one way or the other. Dutch or Spanish? I wouldn’t know.
But I am going with Spain. Call me old fashioned, but when you have two of the best strikers on the planet, the best goalkeeper in the universe and a midfield so deep you can consistently justify playing Cesc Fabregas off the bench… you’ve got the edge.
Plus, if Spain win, I win: money. Of course, if I’d picked the Dutch (and I almost did) I would have already clinched the thing. But let’s not think about that.
I’m planting myself in Spain’s camp. If only for the course of the match. If I lose, I don’t lose so badly, because the Dutch deserve to win a World Cup already and I’d be happy for them – kinda like getting to drink part of the whisk(e)y I owe my friend for this past League season. But for the sake of suspense, for the sake of that thing that makes a good football match (and I know this will be an absolute classic) good, I’m picking a side. Winning a couple hundred bucks is as arbitrary as anything and downright minimal compared to that feeling (and we all know what I’m talking about), but the serious football lover must choose. And I have done so.