Print and Go Back ESPN.com: World Cup 2010 [Print without images]

Sunday, July 11, 2010
The night beautiful football died

By Leander Schaerlaeckens
ESPN.com

JOHANNESBURG -- The Dutch once went through life as beautiful losers. Now they're just plain losers.

The Dutch acquired the moniker by making it to the World Cup final in 1974 and 1978. On both occasions, they played beautifully but ultimately lost despite being the superior team.

The 2010 finalist is not a worthy successor.

There's no honor in losing the way the Dutch did Sunday night. It was Spain that tried to play beautifully. The Dutch tried to counteract Spain's possession game by hacking, kicking, plowing and bashing the Spaniards every which way, incurring nine yellow cards in the process.

The Dutch were conscious and intentional in their hack-a-Spain approach.

"Yes, we did that intentionally," defender Gregory Van Der Wiel said about the Netherlands' uber-physical approach. "It was not the idea to let Spain play soccer comfortably. They can play fantastic soccer, and if you let them, you doom yourself. We tried to apply pressure wherever we could and tried to make the game hard on Spain."

"It's a final, so it's always intense," Robin Van Persie chimed in.

It is plain to see that this Dutch team isn't about beautiful football. Not that the Dutch care.

"I'm a little sick of that entire discussion," standout goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg said after rolling his eyes when asked about his team's opting for wins over beauty. "It's really just about results at a tournament like this. You can play beautifully and … then you get bounced in the first knockout phase. We made the final. So beautiful soccer you can set on fire for all I care."

Coach Bert van Marwijk deflected accusations of his team's instigating the violent mood. "The tone was set early," he said. "But I think it came from both sides. Spain committed some really harsh fouls, too."

And whether the Dutch feel the need to justify their actions or not, the truth remains that their physical and more calculated approach led to more success than most people had predicted.

"Nobody had expected us to be here and play in the final," van Marwijk said. He also pointed out that the Dutch weren't all that far from being world champions Sunday night.

"Arjen [Robben] had two very good chances," van Marwijk said. "In the extra time, you know the first team to score will win. Robben's chances could have been that victory."

Ultimately, though, this match will be remembered for the night the Dutch decided once and for all to abandon beautiful football.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com.