Spain Emerges As World Cup Victor

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Spain claimed victory over the Netherlands in the final match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup this weekend. Host Michel Martin speaks with NPR correspondent Mike Pesca for more on the final game. Pesca also offers analysis on the attack on Ugandan soccer fans.


The attacks on soccer fans in Uganda yesterday mark an end to what had been a largely peaceful World Cup.

We turn next Mike Pesca, NPR's correspondent covering the World Cup over the last month, and he's back in New York from Johannesburg, and he joins us from our studios there. Welcome back, Mike, thanks for joining us.

MIKE PESCA: Hi. You're welcome.

MARTIN: And this is a sad coda to the World Cup, I think it is fair to say. What reaction, as you were leaving, how were the games viewed? Were they viewed as a success? Were people pretty happy?

PESCA: People were ecstatic, perhaps even not logically so. But I can't tell you how many times after Bafana Bafana, the South African national team lost. I would come across a South African wearing the trademark yellow jersey and say, sorry about your team. And they would say, it doesn't matter, we were blessed by God to have hosted the World Cup.

And there were very there was some dissent, but you had to look pretty hard to find out. Part of this was that the media were the biggest cheerleaders. So you didn't get too many stories in the newspapers about the very rare protest about the money being wasted, the protestors would say, on soccer stadiums when there are of course many other ways to spend money in a country like South Africa.

But it's ineffable and it's hard to quantify empirically. But I was even surprised with just how much goodwill the World Cup generated among the populace of South Africa. And I think they needed that. They haven't had really great feelings for a while.

MARTIN: And, finally, let's talk to the athletic portion of the competition. Before we get into all the details, why do you think Spain won?

PESCA: I think Spain won because they're the best team in the world. Wow, you're paying me for some great analysis, right?

MARTIN: I was going to say, I could have come up with that.

PESCA: Yeah. So, but that doesn't always happen. They're a specific kind of great team, which is that they control the ball almost by a two-to-one margin in some games. They dictate the pace.

Everyone that Spain came up against had to adopt their ways to match the Spanish, and no one could, although the Swiss bizarrely won in the first game and it was the only time a team, Spain, had lost its first game and went on to win the World Cup.

But the Spanish style, they were so good at it, and they are compromised mostly of guys who play on one club team, Barcelona, and I think this could have ripples throughout the soccer world that we might see a little bit of a difference in, not the English style where they have long kicks and try to have these kind of spectacular aerial plays, but holding the ball for long periods of time, making the defense react. If you're as good as Spain and you could do it, I think other teams will be inspired to try to play that style.

MARTIN: What about the whole sort of total soccer versus sort of relying on defense, you know, controversy. I mean, some people were saying that part of the problem has soccer has become forgive me soccer fans more boring to watch because the total soccer, the playing the whole field, the flare, has been diminished.

PESCA: Well, yes. People speak of total soccer because this was a word associated with the Dutch. And of course the Dutch were playing the Spanish. But total soccer, which was a '70s style, means specifically that any player can play any position. It was an amazing thing to watch. Since then it's sort of become shorthand for entertaining soccer or in depth soccer.

But really it means a specific style and no one's playing total soccer now. The Spanish maybe the lesson is that if you pick one style, any style, and you almost perfect it, then you're going to be a great team. The Spanish have perfected this style of play and now everyone has to match them. And one-nothing wins, and they won all their games in the knockout round by one nothing score.

They only scored eight goals in the whole tournament. In soccer, a one-nothing win can be dominant. And the Spanish found a way to dominate other teams and yet only win one to nothing.

MARTIN: What was your favorite moment of the tournament, the whole 64 games that were played? Did you have a favorite moment or poignant moment that you hope people remember, along with the win, which of course is significant.

PESCA: Yeah. Well, one story I always like to tell is that it was the best and worst moment wrapped up into one. There were a lot of logistical problems in getting to some of the stadiums at far-flung places were hard. And getting to the stadiums in Johannesburg were sometimes hard. So we saw the final in Soccer City last night.

An earlier game was in a stadium called Ellis Park. And the police in Johannesburg were so helpful, but they were also so wrong and they kept directing me to park in rides that didn't exist in a train station they said was going to the game.

So I was stuck in traffic for two-and-a-half hours. And people couldn't be more helpful, but that didn't get me to the game. So that's something now I smile about. But I guess the number one moment is that Shakira song, which "Waka Waka," which is the theme to the World Cup.

And before the U.S. and Uganda game, they were teaching people to do the Waka Waka dance, teaching people to dance rhythmically is a huge thing in South Africa. And the part of the song where the lyrics says this time for Africa, everyone, 500 people stopped and screamed it at the top of their lungs and they meant it. The Ghanaians, the Americans. It was a pretty emotional moment, an emotional song. It was an emotional tournament if you have thoughts about the future of Africa and South Africa.

MARTIN: So you'll be giving Waka Waka lessons now that you're back.

PESCA: I'm not...

MARTIN: When are we scheduled for ours?

PESCA: I'm not in a place to instruct.


PESCA: Only hoping to learn.

MARTIN: NPR's Mike Pesca. He's been covering the games and reported from South Africa. He's back and joined us from our New York studios. Thank you and welcome back.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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