Spain vs. Netherlands 2010: Keys to Victory for Each Team
The 2010 World Cup final this Sunday will feature two teams who have never hoisted the coveted World Cup trophy, offering the historic tournament a fresh, new feel.
So, forget the statistics. Throw away the histories of both nations.
This World Cup final on Sunday night in Johannesburg will be like nothing we have ever seen before on this stage.
It is impossible to predict what will happen on Sunday night. What is certain, however, is what both the Netherlands and Spain must do to emerge victorious.
What exactly do they have to do? Let's take a look...
Spain: Contain the Dutch Wingers
Almost all of the goals that the Dutch are able to generate start and end on the wing. This means that Arjen Robben or Dirk Kuyt supply either wide runs, crosses, or, usually, a little bit of both.
Robben combines speed, technique, and shooting ability on the right, while Kuyt gives the Dutch relentlessness on the left.
Combined, they put extreme pressure on opposing wing backs.
The Spanish backs, specifically Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila, who both look to push up if possible, will have to mark their men vigorously.
The back line must also prevent Robin van Persie from drifting to the wings, which he prefers to do as an out-of-position central striker.
Because of this additional threat, all four of Spain's defenders must overlap effectively and cut down space on the wings, no matter who drifts out wide for the Netherlands.
Spain: Find Another Goal-Scorer
Time and time again, it is proven that a team must find goals from unexpected sources if they are to win in the World Cup.
Strikers and attacking midfielders will not always find their way onto the score sheet, so defensive-minded players have to pick up the slack in certain matches.
Carles Puyol did this in the semifinal against Germany, which had done its very best to shut down David Villa and the rest of the Spanish attackers.
Marco Materazzi did it four years ago for Italy in the 2006 final.
Do not be surprised if Villa, Fernando Torres, and Pedro are all harassed by two or more Dutch defenders when they get the ball.
So, do not be surprised if another Spaniard is forced to step up.
Spain: Control the Tempo
With Spain, it is all about possession of the ball.
As they have done in every match of this World Cup, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Xabi Alonso will look to hold the ball in the midfield and distribute it patiently.
The key question, however, is not whether Spain will achieve that 60-40 advantage in possession, because they always find a way to do so.
It will be instead how quickly the Spanish midfield can stifle any Dutch counter-attacks that may emerge and regain control of the ball.
In their semifinal against Germany, the three Spanish midfielders dictated the pace of the game.
They will have to do the same against playmaker Wesley Sneijder and his two sidekicks, Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel.
Holland: Execute the Counter-Attack
The trio in midfield for the Netherlands must look to dictate the tempo of the game and outwork the Spanish trio of Xavi, Iniesta, and Xabi Alonso.
The only way they can do this is if they start fast, unexpected counter-attacks.
The Germans attempted to counter whenever they could in the semifinal but were stifled by the Spanish possession game.
The one team to defeat Spain in South Africa, Switzerland, managed to launch quick counter-attacks, which were started by its central midfielders.
Starting with Sneijder, who has the ability to launch those ahead of him into space, the Dutch midfield must be able to quickly gain possession of the ball and then break.
In other words, this Dutch trio must be able to do what the Germans, Paraguayans, and Portuguese before them could not.
Holland: Find Another Goal-Scorer
The Netherlands are also tasked with finding secondary scorers.
Because the Spanish back line will focus most of its attention on Robben, Kuyt, Robin van Persie, and Sneijder, the final on Sunday night could be a perfect opportunity for an unexpected goal to come when it is least expected.
Just ask Giovanni van Bronckhorst about unexpected goals.
To open the scoring in his team's semifinal against Uruguay, the Dutch captain unleashed a deadly shot from the left wing that found its way into the top right corner of the net.
His goal set the tone for his team in that game, carrying them to the final Sunday night.
If the Dutch are to lift up the trophy for the first time ever, a goal from a similarly unexpected source might very well be needed again.
Holland: Defend, Defend, and Defend
Simply put, the Dutch must defend with intelligence, passion, and resilience.
The Spanish will look to put as much pressure on the back line of the Netherlands, which has been shaky at times, as they can, so that back line must be up to the task.
The key to the Swiss victory over the Spanish side earlier in the tournament was the passion with which the Swiss defended in front of goal.
Against a team loaded with attacking talent and attacking tactics and schemes, the best any team can do is to play with that passionate, yet disciplined, mentality on the defensive side of the ball.
In what looks to be a low-scoring match, the team that defends the best will emerge victorious.