First off...thanks to Patrick N. for updating the sites layout...loooking goood!
Secondly, we've been driving this home over the last week or so, but now that the World Cup is over we are phasing back into the NFL coverage. Don't worry, you'll still be getting soccer, just not quite as much of it over the next month or so. What you will be getting is some sit down interviews with the world renowned Mr. Football as we run down his picks for the 8 NFL Divisions this year, in what is probably the Last NFL Season Ever Or At Least Until 2012.
With the administrative items out of the way...
SPAIN 1, NETHERLANDS 0
I'm not going to sit here and wring the hands over how this fugly match was a giant blow towards making soccer a mainstream sport in the States. The ratings say otherwise. Ratings in the US for the World Cup Final were up an unbelievable 41 percent over the 2006 final, and that without any other obvious reason other than the increased popularity of the game stateside. It wasn't like the US team was in the Final, it wasn't like Mexico was in the Final, or even England, all things that could have seriously skewed the ratings. Nope, the ratings were up 41% just because the popularity of the sport has exploded that much.
That's obviously something I'm thrilled with, as Patrick and I have been doing a soccer/NFL blog for 4 years now, and hey, if soccer gets anywhere near the NFL's level of popularity, what that means is that we will take our act to ESPN sometime before 2012, and that means no more spreadsheet making for me. This is something I would enjoy.
So anyway, the match. The person on the pitch I was most impressed with in this match was referee Howard Webb. Seriously. He did an awesome job keeping control of this match where the Netherlands came out with the sole strategy of playing prison ball knowing that no ref is going to hand out a red card in a World Cup Final for anything short of a Zidane-esque headbutt to the groin. To Webb's credit, he didn't hand out any red cards. The one ejection came as the result of a second yellow and it wasn't until well into extra time. He liberally handed out the yellow cards, mostly to Holland, letting them slowly paint themselves into a corner with those until eventually someone got a second one, which led to the only goal of the match being scored.
I was also very impressed with Webb because while the Netherlands was playing Rollerball, Spain's strategy was to dive all over the place and keep bitching to the referee looking for either a red card or a penalty kick, refusing to get thru their heads that they would get neither. The worst offender here was the guy that ended up scoring the winning goal, Andres Iniesta, to the point that he became the one guy I didn't want to see score (and of course, he did).
Overall, this match kind of was a fitting capstone to this World Cup. It wasn't a classic match, and it wasn't a classic tournament. That said, it still did the job as far as providing memories, and being a worldwide spectacle that lived up to the anticipation and hype. South Africa was a successful host, proving many doubters wrong, and the tournament shone a light on a lot of great players who don't get the publicity during the club season (Sniejder, Robben, Forlan, Suarez, Schweinsteiger, Muller), and exposed a lot of players who do as being maybe just a wee bit overhyped (Rooney, Ronaldo, Kaka). I enjoyed the hell out of this last month and hoped you all did too and followed the action here. Feel free to go through the archive and relive.