By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Saturday: In an entertaining match played on a sleek wet field, Germany topped Uruguay 3-2 to claim third-place in consecutive World Cups.
Die Mannschaft was without three stars as captain Phillip Lahm and winger Lukas Podolski both missed the match with the flu and Miroslav Klose sat out due to a back injury. As such, Germany found two of its scores from unlikely sources: Marcell Jansen and Sami Khedira each collected their first goals of the tournament in the win. Their first strike, though, came from a familiar source in the nineteenth minute when 20-year-old Thomas Muller, returning from suspension, netted his fifth goal.
Uruguay knotted things up before halftime and took the lead in the 51st minute when Diego Forlan stretched his leg out and tumbled to the ground in a beautiful scoring effort. His strike made the race for the Golden Boot a four-way tie between himself, Muller, Spain's David Villa and the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder. The lead didn't last long, though. Five minutes later, Jansen took advantage of a poor read by Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera and headed in the equalizer.
Khedira's 82nd minute winner was also a result of the Celeste hurting themselves, as he collected the winner when the Uruguay defense sent the ball bumbling lightly into the air, unable to clear a corner kick from Mesut Ozil. In the right place at the right time, Khedira sent his headed strike past Muslera into the upper right corner. In the dying seconds of stoppage time Forlan was granted the opportunity to send the match to extra time with a free kick just outside the box, but his bid was sent off the crossbar as the match concluded.
Of course, both teams are rightly proud of their accomplishments. Germany is very young and very inexperienced, and they were still able to match the finish of the 2006 hosting Die Mannschaft squad. Barring disaster, they will be an absolute powerhouse by the time 2014 rolls around. Uruguay's fourth place finish ties its best since its 1950 championship. The Celeste also finished fourth in 1970. This year's result reminds us that you can never count out a team with as strong a football pedigree as Uruguay's, regardless of how long ago that pedigree was developed.
Also Saturday: Fernando Torres, whose disappointing tournament resulted in his being held out of Spain's semifinal tilt with Germany, reportedly met with coach Vincente Del Bosque in hopes of drawing the start against the Netherlands in Sunday's final. The scoreless striker entered late in the semifinal as a substitute for Villa and played well over the match's final ten minutes. It seems as though Torres was respectful in his bid and places ultimate value on victory, but wants to play a role in that achievement. You can't blame an athlete especially one as talented and, even as he struggles, potentially game changing as Torres for wanting to play in a tournament final. This strikes me as an encouraging showing of character by the Liverpool star.
Though the 2010 World Cup has seen its share of controversial refereeing decisions, a FIFA study says that officials have correctly made 96 percent of their calls. The figure seems believable. By and large, the tournament's refereeing has been very good. But the poor showings here and there totally overshadow an otherwise job well done, underscoring the obvious need for either technology or an extra set of eyes along each goal line.
The New York Red Bulls will announce their signing of a Designated Player on Thursday when MLS's transfer season opens. It's been rumored heavily for months that France great Thierry Henry would join the team after the World Cup, so it's nearly certain that the aging former Barcelona striker will this week call New York home. MLS teams are granted two Designated Player spots (and can pay for a third) on their rosters, which allow clubs to sign global superstars to large salaries while only counting for 335,000 against the league's modest salary cap.
What to watch on Sunday: The entire world will set its eyes upon the 2010 World Cup final, pitting the Netherlands against Spain. While both sides boast strong soccer histories neither has won a World Cup, meaning history will be made and a significant increase in the morale of one country hangs in the balance.
Spain has dominated the current World Cup cycle, losing just twice since November of 2006. But having won ten straight, the Dutch are riding an impressive wave of their own, and they are also unbeaten in 25 straight matches. On the field, the teams are similar as well. While both the Oranje and La Furia Roja maintain at some level the flashy soccer of their respective histories, the current manifestations are also organizationally and defensively strong. While pretty attacking soccer remains a staple of the teams' success, winning is the priority and these two sides have proven that they'll sacrifice their looking good to reach that goal. Dutch winger Arjen Robben put it bluntly. I prefer a very ugly game and we win, instead of a beautiful game and we lose, the Golden Ball finalist said on Saturday.
And that's what it comes down to. Sunday's 2:30 kickoff will mark the start of a match between the tournament's two best teams, for both of whom defeat is hardly recognizable. One side will for the first time return home basking in soccer's and arguably sport's greatest glory, while the other will be forced to find tearful content in a second place finish. Star power, beautiful game, total football they can all be forgotten. Hoisting the Cup in victory is the only thing that matters now.
The match will follow the World Cup's closing ceremony. Shakira will headline the event and will perform Waka Waka, the tournament's official anthem, as she did on June 10's opening concert.
Question of the Day: Who stands to gain more from victory on Sunday? Spain has been the world's dominant team since the 2006 tournament and has a 2008 Euro to show for it, and have already reached a World Cup highpoint by just making it to the final (in fact, they passed a milestone some time ago upon advancing to the semifinals). Still, for as strong a team as La Furia has been for the last four years, it would be a major disappointment to finish the cycle without the game's top prize. For the Netherlands, the match marks its first return to the final since 1978 and an opportunity for the Oranje to at last take its place amongst the world's soccer elite. But of the two sides, they were less likely reach the final and are the match's underdog.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Netherlands v Spain Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: "The two teams are meeting at a point where they are doing things well. Both have players of great technical ability, very creative. It's going to be great propaganda for world football." - Coach Vincente Del Bosque on the eve of Spain's first World Cup final contest, against the Netherlands.