This year’s World Cup between Spain and  the Netherlands was eagerly awaited by millions of people all over the globe but the anticipated spectacle degenerated in one of the most disgraceful examples of indiscipline seen at this level for years.

Referee Howard Webb was on a hiding to nothing.

He tried to keep 22 players on the field. He issued cautions and spoke to the players but no-one took any notice. He was heavily criticised in some quarters but a referee can only do so much. The players must play their part and accept their responsibility.

Webb did say however that he regretted only cautioning and not sending off Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong for a two footed assault into the chest of Xabi Alonso.

De Jong has a reputation.

In March this year he broke U.S. international midfielder Stuart Holden’s leg with a reckless tackle and on Saturday, in the third minute of the English Premier League clash between Manchester City and Newcastle, he flew into Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa with both feet and broke the tibia and fibula in the Frenchman’s left leg.

Once more, as in the World Cup Final, the punishment did not fit the crime.

For his tackle on Holden he was only shown a yellow card while he escaped without even a caution for Saturday’s challenge on Ben Arfa.

Dutch national team coach Bert van Marwijk was very critical of Howard Webb after the Final.

After the Final when asked about the tactics that resulted in an astonishing nine yellow cards and one red for his team, which surpassed the all-time record for both sides in a World Cup final by 50 percent, he said,

“It has been our intention to play beautiful football, but we also were facing a very good opponent. Spain was the best the last two years and we needed to play to beat them. We did a good job and were in good position. Both sides committed fouls. It might be regrettable for a final. It’s not our style but then again, you do play a match to win. It’s a World Cup. It’s a final.”

In July, he claimed the ends justified the means.

He was at the match on Saturday and perhaps seeing Ben Arfa taken off the field on a stretcher has made him face up to reality.

This week van Marwijk said he was dropping De Jong from the Netherlands team that will face Moldova and Sweden in 2012 European Championship qualifiers on 8th and 12th October. The second game is a big one since Holland and Sweden each are joint leaders of Group E.
“I was at the match in Manchester and I’ve seen the pictures of the tackle. It was a wild and unnecessary offence. He went in much too hard. It is unfortunate, especially since he does not need to do it,” he said of the tackle.

Van Marwijk  appears finally to have developed a sense of right and wrong.

He is to be commended for his stance and I wish more coaches were prepared to take similar action.

Better late than never!

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