Spain/Netherlands Analysis and Closing World Cup Thoughts

July 12, 2010 - 06162392 date 11 07 2010 Copyright imago Sven Simon Scorer Andres Iniesta ESP kneels Short After Final whistle jubilant on the Lawn in Background is on the Ties Spain happiness cheering Emotions Final Netherlands NED Spain ESP 0 1 n v at 11 07 2010 in Johannesburg Football Weltmeistschaft 2010 in of 11 06 11 07 2010 men Football World Cup National team international match Final Johannesburg Victory Winner World Champion Celebrations cheering Final cheering Vdig 2010 horizontal premiumd.

Spain/Netherlands Analysis


The match played out exactly as FFG expected (to be fair: we weren’t unique in nailing the lineups). Perhaps the only surprise was the discipline of Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, neither of whom are known for their defensive abilities. Sneijder consistently dropped much deeper than normal and van Persie was always cognizant of Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt’s positioning, as the Arsenal striker moved to the flanks whenever the Dutch wingers made inward runs. In fact, van Persie scooted all the way to right back at one point. His play exemplified the Netherland’s excellent team positioning.

It’s just too bad Nigel de Jong’s soccer fu epitomized their commitment to harsh fouls.

English Flair

In a somewhat amusing coincidence, a team dominated by stars from Barcelona and Real Madrid had its lone goal set up by English Premier League players (granted, Barcelona’s Iniesta was the goal scorer). During a 116th minute breakaway, Fernando Torres (Liverpool) saw Iniesta’s run a bit too late to hit him with a perfect pass, but Rafael van der Vaart’s failed clearance landed at the feet of Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), who found the unmarked Iniesta.

Stats Lie

In this case, the stat ‘shots on goal’ (only 6 to 5 in favor of Spain) doesn’t tell the whole story. Netherland’s Arjen Robben had the two most dangerous shots, but Spain really should have scored multiple goals:

- Sergio Ramos twice missed the target on uncontested headers.

- Joan Capdevilla whiffed in front of an open net.

- Before Iniesta scored, he had two prior opportunities to shoot inside the box or pass to an open teammate. Instead, he dribbled into a defender on both occasions.

- During a 3 on 1 breakaway (the 1 being the Dutch goalkeeper), Fabregas took a shot himself instead of laying off to either teammate.

- Iniesta was heading into the box uncontested when Howard Webb stopped play for de Jong’s high kick. Had the ‘challenge’ not been so dangerous, advantage would have been played.

Spain – boring?

If you see Spain’s style labeled boring, remember that FFG called it quite some time ago. Spain is so talented that their opponents give up any attempt at maintaining possession, and the Spanish seem willing to dink their way into the box, leading to long stretches of horizontal passes.

Proliferation of the 4-2-3-1

The 2010 World Cup was the international coming out party for the 4-2-3-1, a formation that has recently seen success at the club level (Inter Milan and Chelsea being the most vocal proponents). At the World Cup, three teams (Netherlands, Germany, and France) used a conventional 4-2-3-1 in each of their games. Two (Portugal and Ghana) utilized it for most of their matches, and Spain employed a heavily modified 4-2-3-1 in each of their games, though they only started it in three.

So if you’re counting, three of the four semifinalists used a 4-2-3-1. The other, Uruguay, spent most of the tournament in a 4-4-2, but it might as well have been a 4-2-3-1. They used two defensive midfielders and a false-nine (Diego Forlan), meaning their formation looked like a 4-2-3-1 even thought it wasn’t listed as such.


So why a 4-2-3-1 and not a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2? When a 4-4-2 comes up against a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, the three central midfielders tend to have their way with the opposing two, and if teams line up in a 4-2-3-1 against a 4-3-3, the former has two defensive midfielders in place to deal with the two attackers from the latter. Essentially, a 4-2-3-1 allows teams the best chance of preventing a counter while simultaneously maintaining possession.

Spain personified this ideal, though they tweaked the formation just a bit to ensure they dominated possession. Iniesta is listed as an outside midfielder but plays centrally for much of the match, giving Spain four center midfielders.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if any teams (club or international) attempt to replicate Spain’s formation. Given the unique talents of Iniesta, the four-headed possession monster is unlikely to become a trend.

Gringos – what say you? Did Netherlands have any choice other than to break up play? Will anyone be able to replicate Spain’s formation? Does Xavi’s resemblance to Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes scare you too?

One Comments Post a Comment
  1. Rivelino says:

    great post. just found your blog. am learning stuff over here.

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