So, the World Cup approaches the finale, and it’s time to wheel out my predictions and hold them to account.
I said Brazil would win. Oops, they were swept aside by the Netherlands. I said England would get knocked out in the quarter finals, and was a bit over-optimistic there; and while I was close in saying that no Africans would get beyond the first round I was glad to see Ghana surprise a few folk and prove me wrong by getting to the last eight.
To my surprise, though, I did quite enjoy the early rounds. Not, perhaps, like most people did for the masterful performances by big teams like Portugal, Germany or Argentina, but for plucky performances like the passionate, fighting spirit of unbeaten New Zealand and North Korea’s remarkable show of discipline, determination and never-say-die attitude in their nearly successful stand-off against Brazil. Plus of course the amusing implosions of the French and Italian teams.
And I wasn’t far off expecting the Netherlands and Spain to be up among the best, and indeed they are now going to play in the final, following last night’s Dutch win over Uruguay and tonight’s defeat of Germany by Spain.
The final is on Sunday, and I think I’ll be supporting Spain.
My natural instinct would be to support the Dutch – supporting our near neighbours in northern Europe over their southern opponents, and throwing my weight behind the only one of the two that I’ve been to (and, incidentally, really enjoyed visiting).
However, two things have changed my mind.
One is the terrible habit of the Dutch to refer to themselves as “Holland” when the correct name for the country is the Netherlands. The country consists of twelve provinces, two of which – North and South Holland – contain much of the population and the country’s biggest cities. However, “Holland” in itself is not synonymous with the Netherlands and in fact doesn’t exist in any constitutional or legal sense in itself.
It’s like saying “Bavaria” or “Prussia” when you actually mean “Germany”; like saying “England” when you mean “Britain” or “the UK”; “Ontario” when you mean “Canada”; and “New South Wales” when you mean Australia. It’s even like saying “Yorkshire” or “Lanarkshire” when you actually mean England or Scotland respectively. Getting the names of countries correct is not difficult, and is a matter of respect and accuracy.
So when many people in the Netherlands themselves say “Holland” it is no surprise when people like the BBC get it wrong, and I – the pedant that I am – despair at a country that doesn’t even know its own name and really therefore shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. So that’s one reason why I’m going to be backing Spain. They may be a feisty and fractious bunch but at least they agree on what Spain is called, whether or not they like being a part of it.
The other reason I’m supporting them is that I’ll be there on the day of the final, our first day of holiday. Being in a participating country on World Cup Final day should be quite an experience, and in amongst a crowd of passionate Spaniards in the searing summer heat, I don’t think it would be wise to shout out an almighty “hup, Holland!”
Though if I call them “Holland” then frankly I’d deserve everything I got from an angry Spanish mob.