By Dave Johnson
The dream World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands was just thata dream. The reality of Spains 1-0 win was a far cry from the pre-match fantasy of a wonderful collision of two positive soccer playing cultures.
The Netherlands attempt to make Spain feel uncomfortable led to a game that had more cards than chances. It was by design that the Dutch were physical and aggressive as they tried to disrupt Spanish possession. The rugged encounter produced 14 total yellow cards and more than doubled the previous record of six set in the 1986 final between Argentina and Germany.
Andres Iniestas goal to win the match in the 116th minute in many ways rescued not only Spain but soccer. The European champions, while short on goals throughout the tournament, consistently played with the most style and can be easily accepted as just champions.
This is not to say the Netherlands did anything illegal, save for the fouls, but its approach was at its best disappointing and its worst just plain ugly. On Sunday the Dutch completed only 69 percent of its passes, but arguably had the best chances, two Arjen Robben opportunities come to mind, and really did come close to a positive result from a negative plan.
To be sure it was not a good final, but it was a watchable final and likely would have been more entertaining with an early goal. The Netherlands did not show their game in the most positive light but its not as if they just bunkered in and absorbed Spanish pressure without trying to find a way to win.
Like the final, the entire World Cup may not have been the best of all time but it was far from the worst. In the end positive soccer was rewarded. Germany, Netherlands, and Uruguay were the top three scoring teams in the tournament and they all made it to the semi-finals. Oddly enough Spain, while positive, only scored eight goals which are the fewest ever by a champion.
It was also a World Cup that gradually built momentum. Overall the average goals per game was 2.27, just ahead of Italia 90s mark of 2.21 which is the lowest of all time, but in the knockout stage the goals per game average rose to a healthy 2.75 which was the best since 1998s mark of 2.81.
As stars the likes of Argentinas Leonel Messi, Englands Wayne Rooney, and Portugals Cristiano Ronaldo, just did not live up to advance billing. As teams France and England were shockingly bad, while Uruguay and Slovenia carried the flag for the smaller nations.
In the end thats in part why we watch. Soccer is unpredictable. With disappointments there are also revelations. There will always be bad games and negative teams, but by and large South Africa 2010, even without a truly classic match, was entertaining and often dramatic.
The referees at this World Cup were justifiable targets of criticism, but it also time for FIFA to take a look at changes to make the referees job easier. Tweaks in rules and approaches to the game are necessary to keep soccer healthy.
Italia 90 was probably the worst of all World Cups and out of it the back pass to the goalkeeper was outlawed, punishment for tackles from behind became stricter, and an attacking player only needed to be even with last defender to be ruled onside.
From South Africa 2010 the need for goal-line technology was brought home in the England quarterfinal against Germany. Frank Lampard had a goal for England but the referee and his assistant did not see it fully cross the line after going off the cross bar.
Simply put goal-line technology should be introduced not only for the World Cup, but in all major leagues. The technology exists and the money exists. Goals are too hard to score and the stakes are too high not to do everything possible to be sure a goal is a goal.
It is also time to experiment with a change the offside law. Everyone remembers Argentinas goal against Mexico that was clearly offside, but beyond that obvious one there were too many other offside errors that killed scoring chances.
For the referees assistant there is so much ground to cover and keep an eye on and there is so much to interpret. While the law can remain the same, with the benefit of the doubt going to the offensive player, it is time to shorten the field for the offside law.
The old North American Soccer League used a 35-yard line for the offside law and this should be revisited. In essence the offside law would only apply within 35 yards from the goal instead of all the way to the half way line. This would allow referee assistants to sharpen their focus and increase their probability of getting it right.
South Africa 2010 wasnt bad, but it was far from perfect. FIFA needs to realize and do its part as soccers governing body.