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Barry Yourgrau Headshot

Spain of the Good Heart

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Spain won a final that turned almost immediately from a sporting contest to a morality play. Spain were the good guys.

Holland deserted its great legacy of Total Football and went for a disgraceful program of thuggish fouling. (Take your pick of such adjectives from a wide spectrum of commentators.) It's one thing to play defensively, to press, to harry. Its another order of conduct to smash your opponents legs to bits, and hope the referee falters.

Or karate kick your opponent in the chest, which Nigel de Jong did to Xabi Alonso, and for which he should have been red-carded. If this wasn't a final, one commentator observed, the Dutch would have been down by two men by the half.

Ron Hughes, an Englishman the New York Times is mercifully carrying in its coverage (the rest of the Times writers verge on clueless, and George Vecsey, I'm sorry, is plain irritating) called it the most egregious team display he's seen in 40 years of the event. When you think who those four decades included (Italy, for starters), that is saying something. The Dutch got eight yellow cards, along with their one red. Six yellow cards was the highest previous total, both teams included, for a final. The Spanish got five yellows, one for Iniesta removing his shirt after scoring. Hmm, I guess they're equally deserving of a card: a karate kick to your opponent's chest and taking off your shirt?

How can any fan of Dutch football be other than red (that is, beyond orange) in shame that their country, which gave the soccer world the glories of Cruyff, Van Basten, and the rest, descended to this. The Dutch coach calls it practical soccer, ugly but winning soccer. Maybe he should join a 12-step program to introduce himself to the reality there on the field. It was orange assault. If the Dutch had won, they would have been thoroughly despised around the world. And they would have set back the game for anyone who cared about more than winning at all costs.

Anyway, for all that the Spanish won, showing their cuckoo clockwork, their constant pulses of balls turning the water wheel until suddenly a jet darts forward and free, also boasts steel and nerve. (Metaphors are for mixing.) Iker Casillas, the goalkeeper, sobbed openly in joy -- a sentiment shared by most of the planet. How joyful another moment, during the match, when the aging lion of a defender, Carles Puyol of Barcelona, grabbed Casillas of Real Madrid in solidarity and appreciation, after saint Casillas, as he's known, miraculously saved a Robben breakaway.

We're all Spanish in our hearts today.

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