We knew Total Football was a thing of the past - Bert van Marwijk's been quite clear on the subject since taking the Dutch job on - but that was ridiculous.
The inevitable autobiographies will have to be consulted for a proper account of what was said in the Oranje dressing room before the World Cup final of 2010, but it's hard to think that it was anything other than "If them Spaniards try that tippy-tappy nonsense, give 'em a massive boot up the arse", otherwise known as page one of John Beck's coaching manual. Quite why van Marwijk went this way is hard to fathom. The Dutch had waltzed through qualifying, winning every game, and did likewise on their run to the final. The semi-final against Uruguay was a veritable feast of football. From Giovanni van Bronckhorst's screamer of an opener to Maxi Perera's late consolation it was wide open and perhaps therein lies the issue. Uruguay got at the Dutch back four and made it a very nervous 90 minutes.
Spain were not about to be afforded that luxury. Instead, they were to booted as hard as possible and as often as possible. Referee Howard Webb set his stall out early with a flurry of cards - yellow only - and he seemed determined to keep it at eleven-a-side. Nigel de Jong's Jackie Chan impression would surely have secured a straight dismissal in any game other than a World Cup final. Plenty of other challenges were right on the borderline as well, but it was only when Johnny Heitinga pulled down Andres Iniesta when the red card appeared. It was one of the tamer fouls of the evening, but the letter of the law demanded a yellow and it duly appeared, Heitinga's second. Webb's no Graham Poll, so two was deemed enough for a dismissal. This isn't to lambast Webb. Overall, he did a decent job, but faced with the petulant and the thuggish, perhaps a tougher stance early on might have calmed it down rather than see it escalate.
Heitinga's absence allowed Iniesta the space to fire Spain ahead in extra time and he too picked up a booking for taking his shirt off. The law is an ass sometimes and certainly didn't help Webb on this occasion. The goalscorer's t-shirt bore a tribute to the late Dani Jarque. That's obviously a bookable offence. In the end, just three of the Dutch starting XI avoided a caution.
The roots of this go back a while. The most whiny, bitchy, petulant game in living memory was in Nuremburg in the last World Cup where the Dutch took on Portugal saw 16 cautions dished out and four players were dismissed. They lost that one 1-0 too, which tells you all you need to know about what happens when they revert to such tactics. They've got the talent to win without resorting to the kind of stuff we saw at the weekend, but nobody is lamenting the fact they lost after such a cynical display.