The Van Bommel snarl that epitomised this rotten finale


In another of our reflective glances at the World Cup, Bill Taylor starts and finishes with the sort of welcome a prisoner gives when told years have been knocked off his sentence. Four years off World Cup football – and the thuggishness, at the end, of a once-refined footballing nation – is maybe the least reward Bill can expect for getting the winners and runners-up spot on …

Ah well, at least we get another four years off before we have to go through this again. And the REAL football starts in five weeks.

There has been some good, some great football played during this World Cup but there have also been far more terrible moments than there should have been. Many of which were crammed into the final’s seemingly interminable 120 minutes.

As Jonathan Stevenson, doing live updates on the BBC website, said: “Do all football matches have to end like this? Mark van Bommel gets straight into the face of Howard Webb on the final whistle. It’s horrible to see stuff like that.”

Alan Hansen, of BBC Sport, added: “I’m all for teams going into matches with a game plan. I just don’t think there is any place in football for the way the Netherlands approached this match. They kicked the opposition up and down the pitch.”

Ain’t it the truth? But no one could say Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk isn’t a man of his word. His team did exactly what he said they’d do. It would surprise me if somewhere on his body he doesn’t have tattooed: “The end justifies the means.”

I’d like, too, to know what he’s done with his silver runner-up medal. The camera caught him very sourly removing it from around his neck but then cut away.

Referee Webb was booed by Dutch fans as he went up to get his medal for officiating a game that he must have been deeply relieved to blow the final whistle on.

He did his best and, in the process, handed out a record number of yellow cards; I lost count of how many. But that only goes to show the game was never fully under his control. There again, I can’t think of a ref who COULD have controlled this mob.

While the Dutch were clearly the worst offenders, some of the Spanish players’ behaviour was reprehensible, too.

Was Andres Iniesta’s goal offside? The TV commentator seemed to think it might have been. It looked fine to me.

But a minute earlier Webb might have set the Netherlands up for defeat. Wesley Sneijder’s free kick very clearly went out off the shoulder off Cesc Fabregas. But Webb didn’t see it and the Dutch didn’t get the corner they deserved.

Be that as it may, he did yeoman service under difficult circumstances and was far, far from the worst ref we’ve seen in the past month.

This was, as I feared it would be, a rotten game. Though, ironically from my point of view, these were the two teams I first chose as winner and runner-up. I quickly learned to like and respect neither of them – Spain for their score-one-and-then-play-keep-away philosophy and the Dutch for the kind of pragmatism that makes a mockery of what used to be the spirit of the game.

The Spanish take away a rather tacky trophy. And the rest of us? A bad taste in the mouth, I think, and a desperate need to have Fifa address both the need for some sort of electronic monitoring of close decisions and also the sometimes appalling standard of officiating. The tournament produced some of the worst refereeing I’ve ever seen. Yes, the offenders were often put on the next plane home and not allowed to ruin any more games but the damage was already done.

Bright spots? As I’ve already said, some startlingly good performances from the underdogs. This will be the last time I say this (maybe) but Ghana could have won this World Cup had they not been robbed by an ugly – and ultimately fruitless – gesture by a man who was “punished” by a one-game suspension. A whole season would have been more like it.

Nice to think, too, that New Zealand, the country without a professional league, were the only side to remain unbeaten.

Thomas Müller wins the Golden Boot (watch out for the Germans in 2014) and Diego Forlan the Golden Ball for best player of the tournament. Two very bright spots there, especially Forlan.

And one more – Fernando Torres appeared to be okay. Like pretty much every other “superstar” in South Africa, he had a mediocre World Cup, though he’s not entirely to be blamed. He came on in the second half of extra time in the final and helped lay the foundations for Iniesta’s goal.

But then, a minute or so before the end, he was running up the wing and suddenly slowed and crumpled to the ground. It looked like his hamstring had gone. Play, however, continued and Torres was left to lie there.

I saw him at the end, back on his feet, so we must assume all is well. But it might have been nice if someone had paid some attention to him.

That, alas, has been the overall tenor of this World Cup – selfishness and cupidity. Fifa’s attitude to the fans: Stick that in vuvuzela and blow it.

Ah well, at least we get another four years off before we have to go through this again. And the REAL football starts in five weeks.

29 thoughts on “The Van Bommel snarl that epitomised this rotten finale”

  1. THIS WAS SPAM and for all we know computer generated, But it makes a sort of point (happens with some of the modern spam) so is allowed, minus its link – salut! sunderland

    I just don’t see why lots of people dispide Mark v Bommel, You bozos all want to have a footballer like Mark in your team, he is aggressive en a wonderful defending middfielder, and Yes he is pushing the envelope sometimes, but that is the difference ‘tween a winner and a failure.

  2. In the case of Bakkies Botha, though, the ref’s infallibity only held good for the duration of the game. It was afterward that a higher authority reviewed the tapes and punished Botha’s thuggish behaviour appropriately. That would never ever happen in football, at any level. If it did, then perhaps players would be more inclined to follow the injured party Jimmy Cowan’s laudable restraint, rather than collapsing to the ground the moment someone looks at them the wrong way and then rolling around and/or leaping up and down like spiteful children screeching for the supposed malefactor to be sent to bed without any supper.

  3. Well, Tony, my brother’s a rugby ref, too, or was until very recently, and I distinctly recall him joining in a “you don’t know what you’re doing” chant with me at Charlton once!

  4. As a once, but long ago retired, rugby referee the laws state that the official is the sole arbiter of fact. Which makes him, or her, always right even if they are wrong. The big difference is the respect the players show.

  5. Yes, Bill, they’re clearly legit and I sent a “more in sorrow than anger” email yesterday. I have even found someone who seems to be connected to the appalling Time Synchronisation mob; time will tell whether anyone will reply.

  6. No question that Webb did a commendable job under hugely trying circumstances. He wasn’t perfect but it’s hard to see how anyone could have done better without flashing enough red cards to reduce each side to single-digit numbers. But who can say what ramifications there might have been to that? So Webb, I think, emerges from this mess with his reputation unsullied.
    The problem with spam is that it costs next to nothing to send and I read somewhere that if they get one response in 100,000 (or maybe more), that makes it worth their while.
    The one from the Richmond Badminton Club is harder to fathom. It’s a completely legitimate organization with no reason to do this kind of thing. Is it possible, for whatever nefarious reason, that some less-reputable person is using the club as a cover? Or perhaps word of your prowess at the sport has crossed the Atlantic (or even gone the long way round across the Pacific) and they’re anxious to have your reputation add lustre to their name. Either way, it might be worth emailing them to find out, and to ask them to desist. You can reach someone at:


    Whatever this is Salut, it is most definitely not the sort of tedious material that regular visitors to this site would have any interest in. They are presumably targeting any websites which may have a commercial interest in some sort of standardised timing system for business transactions. The next time Salut wants to play the international currency market it may be useful.

  8. Given the performance of some of these officials in the WC perhaps their anonymity ought to be protected by issuing them WITH burqas.

  9. Incidentally, has anyone heard of a site called Time Synchronisation which can be found at—Receiving-Satellite-Timing-Information-/
    Only go if you are having trouble sleeping but these jerks have tried to dump 100 or so spam comments here today alone.
    Can anyone explain what they get out of it exactly, beyond driving me insane as I clear out the deluge of drivel they send? Messages, always in a different but presumably bogus name, like “This post is great” , “I like your site” or “I found your information usefull” (always usefull, suggesting one programmer who cannot spell).

    Yesterday, it was Richmond Badminton Club in Vancouver – including one Ted Shindledecker, claiming to be sending a thoughtful message about the World Cup, but posting it to a piece about Fulham v Sunderland last December).
    But at least he didn’t come back to do it again 90 times.

  10. Apologies for absence from this stirring debate. Too busy with bans on burqas, and allegations of envelopes stuffed with cash being pressed into the sweaty hands of the French political elite (or not, as Messrs Sue, Grabbitt and Runne would argue).

    Sixer claims to have been too busy at the coalface, too, though I’;m sure he will be sharing his thoughts any day now.

    I still think that given the appalling way the players, and especially the Dutch, approached the match, Webb can hold his head highish.

  11. Bill. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from rugby in terms of discipline and etiquette. Not least because the referees in the main seem to be competent and respected for the quality of their performances generally and not just because they have the whistle. That said, when you are watching international rugby you are consistently watching the best officials drawn from the best rugby nations and not some numpty from Mali who has never seen turf and a proper football before. That’s the difference and we need to see and end to the sham of political correctness that sees incompetence ruin the biggest sporting spectacle in the world.

  12. The “cheating” thing has been discussed exhaustively here and I think everyone has his own opinion. I did like Cathal’s thoughts on how things are handled in the world of rugby football.

  13. I was prompted by your suggestion Bill, and find myself his comments less and less persuasive as I read on. He says that Robben’s game could be improved using three words; “Just keep running.” This is precisely what he did when Puyol had his arm across his chest, and he wasn’t given the free kick, nor Puyol the second yellow which is what was warranted if Heitinga’s touch on the shoulder merited one.

    My view of the remaining prose is probably tainted by what I consider to be grossly offensive remarks about the Keane & Haaland incident, which is indicative of a mind set far more badly poisoned than those that have become the subject of his ire in this piece. I can understand his grievance but not the manner of his objections which are ill judged in my view. Not only that but he’s resorted to the sort of typical tabloid knee jerk response to the Suarez incident which has been seized upon and used misguidedly as a case study for “cheating.”

  14. I said it was thought-provoking but that wasn’t the brightest spot of his piece, for sure. But I wish you’d go back and finish it, Jeremy. He does make a good point or two after that.

  15. “Try and imagine your dream football experience – give-and-gos with Messi or whatnot. Mine is to kick Arjen Robben really, really hard. Roy Keane on Alf-Inge Haaland hard.”

    Said Cathal Kelly.

    He’s a controversial man is Mr Kelly. I wonder if writing that particular sentence he pondered the comment that Roy Keane made to Haaland as he lay writhing in agony as a result of the assault that led to his career being effectively finished there and then. I gave up reading at that point.

  16. Superb post Luke. I totally agree. The Spaniards were as bad with their play acting as the Dutch were in their “challenges.” They weren’t opposed to kicking people either. Listening to some remarks and comments since Sunday, you would think that Spain were choirboys. They weren’t by any manner of means.

  17. There’s something to said for reading the views of Americans and Canadians on something like football. Sure, we can disregard it with a casual “pfft, go back to your sissy American football (if only it was ‘sissy’) or your without-rules Ice Hockey.

    Or we could think that these people understand the game, and have a different view point on it. One where this rolling around and faking bemuses them, we could learn a lot from taking the same approach as the USA team. Here’s a team trying to prove that this sport requires peak physical fitness to a nation of people who need convincing. They can’t be seen to flopping on the floor dramatically to try and win, even if the ethos of sport in their country is; “win at all costs.”

    I would take exception with his picking out of Robben, though. Iniesta and Pedro were equally as bad, if not worse, and Robben stayed on his feet when he could easily have gone down and had Puyol sent off (although if Webb had actually shown a red card in that instance I’m pretty sure the whole world would implode on itself.)

    Whereas Iniesta went down the moment he felt Heitinga breathe on him. Okay – Heitinga had his hand on his shoulder but not nearly enough to force a grown man to the floor. Then he jumps up waving his imaginary red card.

    Pedro, while very talented is highly selfish and happy to fall on the floor if it will aid his team.

    To pick out Robben is akin to picking out a worse offender while inside a high security prison. There were plenty of players on the field equally at fault as Robben, on both sides.

  18. The most disgraceful display of so called football by the Dutch, and credit to Spain and the poor Ref. to put up with the clear intimidation showed by the Dutch. Praise to Kuyt to not resorting to such tactics.

  19. Webb would probably never have made it out of South Africa alive.
    In a way, though, it would have been appropriate if the Netherlands had won — totally in keeping with FIFA’s utterly cynical attitude towards the game and the World Cup. There was no place for good guys in the final.

  20. The Karate kick, full flight with every stud digging in, which would have done credit to Bruce Lee yet did not seem to get our ref even thinking pink, let alone a full on “get the hell out of here” red card.”

    Absolutely! However, by that time Webb was in a no win situation. De Jong should have gone for certain as that has no place in a football match. I think that Webb realised for a period that if he kept on giving cards (and quite correctly in nearly all cases) that the game was going to be called off when it reached six a side. He’d have been blamed for “ruining” the WC final when all he was doing was his job. It just wouldn’t have been seen that way. When it got to extra time he was just passed caring. He was clearly furious with the Dutch and this caused his judgement or patience to slip and out came the cards again. He went from referee to politician and then referee again. I think that Dutch were very cynical about this from the get go. They assumed that Webb wouldn’t send players off straight away because of the game that it was. Imagine if the WC final was abandoned because the referee quite rightly had sent of a whole bunch more than he actually did. What would FIFA do then?

  21. The Karate kick, full flight with every stud digging in, which would have done credit to Bruce Lee yet did not seem to get our ref even thinking pink, let alone a full on “get the hell out of here” red card. Now that might just have enforced his authority and made the rash of yellows less necessary.

  22. I was in a bit of a rush and missed Terry’s post.

    To tell you the truth. I could have written every word that you posted there. From watching my first WC in 1970 I have rarely had any interest in the final. It was always a sad occasion. It meant the end of the most wonderful month of football. Seeing new faces emerge as real talents, great goals, wonderful passing movement and great excitement.

    I was sat watching this fiasco last night and thinking “well that’s the end of it,” with a feeling that it had never ever come to life. The last tournament was poor in terms of quality and excitement. This one was a whole lot worse. I had more excitement and pleasure this weekend in watching my little lads team play in a weekend tournament than I derived from watching all of the WC. It’s become a merchandising, money making opportunity in which the football is used to lure more punters to the counter of multinational corporations. It has ruined the game that we love. It’s been an absolutely awful spectacle. Cheating, diving, dreary games, few even good let alone great goals and the worst officiating that you’ll ever see. I wonder how many of the officials are in the hands of bookies? They can cancel the next one for me.

  23. Picking up on Luke’s point. The Dutch “approach” to this game was reminiscent of some of the most brutal international sides of decades past. It reminded me of Ruben Ayala’s Argentina from the 1970s and the Uruguayans that kicked themselves into shame at the 1990 World Cup.

    The assaults (and that’s what they were) worked to intimidate the referee, and to some degree it worked as Howard Webb found himself walking almost the same tightrope as the players having brandished so many cards. Of the first 5-6 there could scarcely be any complaint. Webb unfortunately let the card count sway his judgement as the game progressed and he let offences that should have been punished go unmarked and then sent off Heitinga for a none event. It wasn’t pleasant viewing. Remarkable that it took until extra time to get a player sent off, and then for the wrong reasons!

  24. Apparently it’s a groin injury Torres suffered at the end of the game. I wonder if this will affect the dickering over him between Liverpool and Chelsea? At last count they were only £20 million apart in their estimation of him.

  25. Moral question that I can’t really be bothered to write an article for as I’m packing for tomorrows holiday:

    Is the Netherland’s over zealous, ankle tapping display of ‘cheating’ any worse than the pantomime rolling around and Iniesta’s ‘waving for a yellow and red card for Heintiga to get sent off after he fell over way too easily’ ?

    I’d wager not. Both ways aren’t fair, just in different ways. At least in my opinion.

    Also; was that Van Persie playing for a team full of knuckle dragging cloggers such as De Jong, Heitinga and Van Bommel? ARSENAL’S Van Persie, who could only ever play football with the very elite of ‘tippy-tappy football’.

    I bet he watched Xavi turn and pass to his back four and longed to be part of such a slick passing team.

  26. The goal itself wasn’t offside Bill, but the lead up to it saw Iniesta in a clearly offside position in the box when the ball was played forward to him. There was no doubt about it and he remained in the same position for the goal. The goal seems ridiculously incidental to everything else.

  27. Perhaps I’m becoming a GOM. Perhaps it’s just me. This was the first World Cup in my 50-odd years that I did not enjoy. It was horrible. The images I’ll remember (hopefully, only briefly) are that of the odious Sepp Blatter mixing with the clueless and bored glitterati and royalty. Suarez. Celebrities showing concern at the plight of poor South Africans in the townships. And when the circus leaves town? Still no running water and discreet plans to dismantle the stadia.
    Imaginary cards being waved.
    Howard Webb in a no-win situation. If the game had rightfully finished 8 a side he’d still be in the wrong.
    Garth Crooks and his pseudo-intelligence.

    A performance by England, so abject it must nail the myth of the PL as a developer of talent and kick-start what we’ve all seen coming for 20 years. All apart from the FA that is. Paraguay for showing us that DaSilva should be playing in the PL and that Riveros looks handy.
    Brazil and Argentina getting a spanking by showing neither flair nor spine.
    None of the big names turning up for the greatest show on Earth.
    Vuvuzelas drowning out both Clive Tyldesley and Craig (a victory for football) Burley.

    Roll on August 14th. Whingeless and bileless for 5 weeks.

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