Former England striker Alan Shearer believes Spain’s mental strength was the key to their victory over the Netherlands.
Lacking the overall quality of Spain, the Dutch team set out to defend through sheer aggression, earning a whopping nine yellow cards in the process, including two to Everton defender John Heitinga, who was dismissed.
Opting to attack on the counter almost worked for the Dutch side however, as they frustrated the Spanish passing game for the majority of the final’s 120 minutes, while even conjuring some excellent breaks through Arjen Robben.
But Spain’s quality eventually shone through as a deft cross from substitute Cesc Fabregas was converted through a classy Andres Iniesta half-volley with just moments to go before a penalty shoot-out.
Shearer, though, believes Iniesta’s last-gasp effort was simply representative of a Spain outfit that continued to believe in their game-plan, even at such a late stage in the final.
“What I really like about them is that they trust their ability,” Shearer said. “They don’t panic. They keep on doing what they’re good at even if it doesn’t bring instant rewards. No-one else plays like Spain do and, even if they wanted to they couldn’t, because Vicente del Bosque’s side contains the world’s best midfield by some distance. They just pass teams to death. It’s a great system and they’ve got great players to implement that system.”
Respected Spanish football historian and columnist Phil Ball agreed with Shearer’s viewpoint that Spain refused to panic on the night.
But he felt it was more admirable La Furia Roja refuted their furious nickname and remained calm despite some of the challenges being inflicted on them.
“Curiously enough, one of the factors overlooked by the press in general has been their collective temperament,” Ball said. “In the past, Spanish sides have always looked capable of winning tournaments, only to fall prey either to their strange inferiority complex, their lack of cultural and political unity, or their tendency to lose their heads. The Spanish have fallen prey to intimidation in the past by losing their collective rags, losing their concentration, losing players and finally their matches. In Spain, it’s a masculine rite to retaliate to violence. Anything less is considered suspicious behaviour. In this light, Spain’s admirable restraint in the face of Holland’s unseemly provocation was a major factor in their victory, and a deserved one at that. You will not necessarily win on football alone. Ask the Dutch team of the 1970s.”