Journalism, they say, is the first draft of history but the second and third drafts follow soon after.

Before too long you've got an authorised mini-series starring Richard Roxburgh and there's no turning back.

When it comes to the biggest event in world sport - the World Cup final - the historical die was cast, seemingly forever, about 29 minutes into a two-hour long match.

Except, of course, the first draft of history in this case is wrong. Or at least overly simplistic. Newspaper readers all over the world have already been told that Holland kicked their way to disgrace against free-flowing Spain in Monday morning's match. Generations to come will no doubt get this version also, distilled to a simple good versus evil schematic by intervening decades and hazy nostalgia.

The night that Total Football was betrayed and orange was shown, simply, to be a combination of yellow and red. The night that Holland set fire to its own beautiful legacy. That art and creativity triumphed over cynicism and violence.

Except it didn't and it wasn't - not from where Balls was watching. What a horribly unfair way to see quite an absorbing match.

Twenty-nine minutes was all it took. After a host of Dutchmen had already contributed some fairly unsophisticated challenges, Manchester City's Nigel De Jong raised his boot as the ball flew in and sprigged Xabi Alonso square in the chest. It looked awful, it was awful, but it was not necessarily indicative of the entire 120-minute match and the - entirely legitimate - tactics the Dutch set out to play.

Anyone who has ever played team sport will know that Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk did not send his men out to kick people in the chest. De Jong's act was an ill-timed, split-second decision that he should, and will, regret. Maybe it should have earned him a red card - but that is debatable and it is not Holland's fault that it did not.

Certainly Van Marwijk did send his team out to be aggressive and to try to frustrate and jostle Spain. As he should have. Where Balls takes issue is with the idea that Holland played anti-football. It has already been repeated so many times that it is now gospel truth: only one side came to play football at the final. The side that tried to play football won. Justice was done.

It was said by the TV commentators, by the online reports, by just about every single newspaper account of the final. What rot.

The underappreciated truth is that Spain - the greatest collection of talent at this tournament - did not play well. The reason this is so is because it was not allowed to. It is said the Spanish dominated - in possession terms they may have. But in terms of executing their game plan and imposing the sort of match they wanted, Holland out-performed its opponents at Soccer City. Clearly.

Spain wanted to control the ball and use weight of possession to debilitate its opponents, it hoped to demoralise Holland as it had a German side that had been a juggernaut until it ran into Spain and could not get near the ball.

To accept these terms - as many now appear to wish Holland had - would have been suicide. The Dutch, instead, tried to play a different way. Their plan was to jostle and disrupt Spain's passing rhythm, to aggressively intrude into its midield space, deny time on the ball and take away the ease of ball movement that typifies the way Vicente Del Bosque's men like to play.

If it could get to half-time level-pegging, Holland would have believed, the match could break its way. The pressure was on Spain to make the play and get the goal. The longer this did not happen, the more recklessly it would commit forward and the sole weakness in an excellent Spanish defence - pace through the middle - could be exploited by the lightning-quick Arjen Robben on the counter.

It so nearly worked. In truth, Spain's best player on the night was probably goalkeeper Iker Casillas. His adroitness off the line saved Spain three times from Robben's deadly runs. It was, though, all a bit much for Craig Foster in the SBS commentary box. The sense of outrage he consistently mustered throughout a lamentably one-sided call was enough to gradually turn Balls from disinterested neutral to sudden Oranje fan.

Foster's love for the beautiful game played the beautiful way makes him a passionate advocate and is a welcome intrusion into the fence-sitting that characterises much punditry. But you sometimes fancy he would send out the Melbourne Knights reserve team to play against Spain with orders to keep possession, stroke the ball around and break down the defence with triangular interplay. What would that achieve?

Spain was good for its tournament win and played some lovely stuff - particularly in the semi-final against Germany. But look at this match in totality. That's all we're saying.

Look at the fact that Andres Iniesta had one of his quietest games for the tournament. Look at his blatant, penalty-seeking dive just minutes before his match-winning goal. Look at Spain's five yellow cards and the - unpunished - Carlos Puyol challenge that stopped Holland taking the lead and should have earned a send-off. Is that pure, unimpeachable foobtall?

Everton's John Heitinga earned a yellow card on 56 minutes for a bad tackle on Villa and a second (and red) on 109 minutes for another bad challenge. In between - a span of 53 minutes (that's more than a half) - Holland received two yellow cards and one of them was for dissent. Spain copped two as well.

After half-time, the Dutch did play football, and good football at that. Certainly it was counter-attacking football but, rest assured, it is not easy to play that way against an opponent as good as the furia roja. The Dutch were compact and organised, they functioned as a unit and played to their strengths. Sitting on a host of yellow cards from the first half, they walked a disciplinary tightrope with admirable nerve.

Their tactics were the right tactics and they so nearly worked. The suggestion that they are not legitimate tactics is deeply unfair. This had been talked up as the Cruyff final, pitting the inventor of total football against the nation that - through Cruyff's long involvement at Barcelona - adopted and perfected it. In truth, with a pragmatic focus on defensive organisation long ago having swept through Dutch football and with Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder ensconced in midfield, it was more like Cruyff versus Mourinho.  

For the second time in a couple of months, then, a major final proved that the Spanish way - the Barcelona way - produces beautiful football but that is not always the most effective way. Certainly it is not the only valid form of the game. Defence is football too.

Spain was a deserved winner and the Dutch could not claim to be aggrieved that they lost. They could, though, take issue with the idea - already now entrenched - that they did not play football. They gave it their best shot and they were not good enough. Sometimes it really is that simple.