World Cup 2010 Previews: Spain and Holland, the Great Contenders
The similarities are striking. Between the two of them, they have an arsenal of the most deadly forwards and best attacking midfielders in the world. In their final pre-tournament friendlies, both sides demolished their opponents so brazenly, they left opposing players wandering in a daze trying to determine whose shirt they should try and trade for once the whistle blew.
One of them is currently considered to be the best team in the world. The other is generally thought of as the greatest footballing nation, never to have won a World Cup. But aside from a couple of European Championships, major international victories have largely managed to elude them both. They can also count themselves as the only two teams never to have won a World Cup who have been ranked as number one by FIFA.
Will this be the year that Spain or the Netherlands steps up?
It's a question fans have been asking of the Netherlands since 1978. It was during that golden era of Dutch total football that Holland twice reached and lost the World Cup Final. First to Germany in '74, then to Argentina in '78.
Since that time, the Netherlands has continued to produce great players and build potentially great teams. However, aside from their single European Cup victory in 1988, the results have been disappointing.
Spain on the other hand are something of a new phenomenon on the international football stage. In 1964 they won the European Nations Cup, a forerunner to the European Championships. Twenty years later they again reached the European final, only to lose to France. While they have managed to produce club sides such as Real Madrid and Barcelona that have found success internationally, the Spanish national team came to be seen as perennial also-rans in European football.
However at Euro 2008, all that changed.
Spain, like Holland, swept through their group stage like wild fire. However, unlike the Dutch, the Spanish made it through the second round and eventually to the final where they defeated Germany, one of the most traditionally successful national football sides in Europe.
Since then, the Spanish have batted FIFA's first and second ranking back and forth with Brazil for the better part of two years. Aside from a shock upset loss to the USA in last year's Confederations Cup, they have largely continued to build on their Euro 2008 success.
After being knocked out of Euro 2008 by Guus Hiddink's Russia, the Dutch spent a short time licking their wounds, changed managers, and set about qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. They did so with a perfect winning record and before any other European nation managed to do so.
Like the Spanish, the Dutch go into this World Cup with one of the best front-lines and attacking mid-fields in the world. However, unlike the Spanish, the Netherlands have a defense that could be considered somewhat dodgy.
What's more, the Dutch have a reputation of caving under pressure on the big stage. Spain, whose international football history is perhaps less illustrious, may benefit from not having to carry such baggage.
However many feel there is something about this current Netherlands squad that sets them apart from previous Dutch sides. For one thing, the locker room infighting that has traditionally undermined Holland's success seems to have been nullified.
And this year's UEFA Champions League Final was between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, two teams that were more or less lead to the final by Dutch midfield stars Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben respectively.
Man for man, one would have to say that Spain has the stronger eleven. However, if Arjen Robben manages to overcome his injury by end of the group stage, the Dutch attack will be difficult for anyone to contain. Just ask Italy or France about Euro 2008.
Whether either of these talented contenders can measure up will ultimately be revealed in the coming days and weeks. One thing is certain: the traditional favorites, Italy, Germany, Argentina and Brazil will all be waiting in the wings, ready for them to fail.
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