Soccer Splinters | July 12, 2010

Spain's Xavi - Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images
by Patrick ‘Rey’ Reynell

>Spain wins 2010 World Cup

The analysts called it an ugly win and the fouls would suggest so, but they expressed content at the “best team” deservedly winning the 2010 World Cup. Mark it up as two major trophies in the past two years for Spain who also won Euro 2008.

Andres Iniesta scored the lone goal in extra time to as Spain defeated the Netherlands in another 1-0 game for the Spaniards. They became the first team in World Cup history to win the tournament after losing its opening match.

>Goalkeepers most impressive in final

Though it might not have been the quintessence of “the beautiful game,” I came away totally impressed with both goalkeepers. Spain’s Iker Casillas and Netherland’s Maarten Stekelenburg made 5 saves a piece, each seemingly better than the last.

Casillas’ leg stuffed a breakaway attempt by Arjen Robben, who seemed to determine to score the goal that would have brought Netherlands its first cup.

Stekelenburg stood strong on many set pieces and corner kicks late in the game, especially on some plays that seemed to be defensive break downs by the Dutch. Even the game winning goal, which was the result of turnover just outside the penalty box, glazed off the fingertips of the Dutch goalie and just barely tickled the net on the far post.

It might not have been the prettiest final, but let’s not take away from an unbelievable defensive effort by both men in the net.

>Xavi is good

I know it’s already been said, but Spain’s Xavi is the best soccer player we’ve (the soccer-apathetic North Americans) never paid attention to. He flies under the American fans’ radar because he’s more known for setting up goals than scoring them. I can’t recall the exact stat at this time, but the World Cup telecast for the final said that Xavi had set up 25 shots on goal, eight more than any other player.

If you’ve never paid close to attention to him, it seems like the ball turns into a heat-seeking missile off his foot and always finds a teammate. In the World Cup semifinal against Germany, it was his assist that found teammate Carles Puyol that led to 1-0 victory.

The final against Netherlands was no different, as he sent a corner that at first appeared to miss its target, only to sail over all Dutch defenders to find an uncovered Sergio Ramos. Unfortunately, Ramos’ header had a little too much on it as it sailed over the Dutch goal unchallenged.

It was also his assist to Lionel Messi that made his Spanish club team, Barcelona, champions of Europe in 2008-2009 as well. My first exposure to him came in EURO 2008, where he earned player of the tournament. Indeed, a gifted playmaker that we Americans do not see enough of.

Maybe it’s a player like Xavi is the reason we don’t appreciate the beautiful game as much as we should in the States. We can name the defensive specialists, role players, and set up men in every one of our sports. But if a soccer player isn’t scoring goals, then, well, he just isn’t standing out. Xavi is the antithesis of that American apathy towards beautiful soccer skills.

>New York Red Bulls set to sign Thierry Henry

How has this flown under the radar in the States for so long? SI.com reports that The New York Post says a press conference will be held this Thursday introducing the international soccer star. No clue on any other details, whether this is a loan by his club in Spain, Barcelona, or if he plans a Beckham-like plight to perhaps make the MLS relevant.

Either way, Henry’s arrival can be nothing but good for the MLS and American club soccer IF he can stay healthy.

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