World Cup Morning Report – Countdown to the Final

In recent years the employment of psychologists within sport has become increasingly prevalent, and the team psychologists who are no doubt working with the Spanish and Dutch World Cup squads will have been clocking plenty of overtime over the last few days. For the players belonging to these squads have been trying to come to terms with the fact that by the end of today they could own the most prized possession in world football – a World Cup winner’s medal.

Although many of the players who will take part in the game this evening are some of the world’s most talented and have competed in huge games like the Champions League final before, their minds are unlikely to have suppressed feelings of overexcitement, nervousness and anxiety as they realise today is one of the biggest days of their lives because they will take part in the most important and revered football game in existence. None of the players have played in a World Cup final previously, so clammy hands, sweaty foreheads, trembling limbs and butterflies parading mischievously around stomachs will be commonplace amongst the players in the hour before kick-off in particular. If this isn’t the case (even if some players had taken part in a World Cup final before) questions would have to be asked as to whether or not they were human.

The psychologists will use their full gamut of techniques in order to get the players to relax, and just to think about the processes they need to execute on the pitch. It is vital the players forget about any consequences of their actions and play without any inhibitions if they want to succeed. Unfortunately for the Germans, they did not do that in their semi-final against Spain. Despite demonstrating their ability to play divine attacking football as well as stay typically stingy when having to defend against England and Argentina, the Germans’ psychology consultant clearly failed in their task to vanquish any fear they had of playing the Spanish, as they were decidedly timid on the few occasions they actually had the ball. It was fairly obvious the problem was mental and Manuel Neuer, Germany’s young goalkeeper, has since admitted his side gave the Spanish far too much respect. If they had gone at them like they did Argentina and England they may have ruffled a few feathers and been successful. As it was, they hobbled out of the competition rather meekly, mainly as a result of a psychological deficiency.

A further, far more famous example which highlights the importance of coping psychologically is Zidane’s headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the final four years ago. The Italian’s Machiavellian words had the desired effect, Zidane failed to cope with the psychological stress of the occasion and ended his career in disgrace and without a second World Cup winners medal.

Both the Netherlands and Spain possess world class players who will understand how to play in order to have a chance of beating the opposition this evening. The question is which team will be able to deal with the considerable amount of psychological strain that naturally accompanies playing in the biggest game of a footballer’s life? The key is probably to try to forget it is the World Cup final altogether, to try and treat it as any other ordinary game. But that, of course, is easier said than done.

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