2010 FIFA World Cup Final Preview: The Netherlands Vs. Spain
On Sunday night the world will be watching as two European nations battle it out in Johannesburg for the right to be called World Champions for the first time.
The Euro 2008 champions Spain face off against a resurgent Dutch side at Soccer City in a bid to become the best footballing nation in the world.
For the Spanish, it will cement the legacy of their "Golden Generation,” believed to be their most talented group of players ever. For the Netherlands, it is the chance to upset the odds and claim a historic, underdog victory.
One thing is for sure; on Sunday night the world will wait with baited breath to see which group of footballing stars become national heroes during a historic 90 minutes.
In this article I'm going to give a lowdown on each side and their strengths and weaknesses, to help give a clearer picture of what to expect on Sunday night.
The Netherlands: The Story So Far
The Netherlands are the only side to have gone through both World Cup qualification and the finals with a perfect record.
Having cruised through the easiest European Qualifying group against minnows like Norway & Macedonia, the Dutch found themselves in one of the nicer World Cup groups, and again qualified without too much hassle against an average Denmark, Japan and a woeful Cameroon.
In the second round they faced a dogged Slovakia side, but still won quite comfortably without really playing anywhere near their full potential.
This was evident during the first half against Brazil in the quarterfinals where they were totally outclassed in the first half, however a Brazilian capitulation in the second half gave Holland the opportunity to qualify for the semifinals, and they duly took it with a famous 2-1 victory.
In the semifinals they took on the shock of the tournament, Uruguay, who pushed them all the way in a 3-2 victory for the Dutch.
Now they face only their second big name opposition in the whole of the qualification and finals, Spain, the reigning European Champions, and the Dutch will know they have to be at their best to secure their first World Cup.
The Manager: Bert Van Marwijk
Although the Dutch have had an easier route (bar Brazil) to the final, they have still had to get there, and this is in no small part down to their boss, Bert Van Marwijk.
Van Marwijk has had a pretty good managerial career, with two successful spells at Dutch club Feyenoord, as well as a spell in Germany with Borussia Dortmund.
With a Dutch cup and an UEFA Cup on his CV, Bert has a proven track record of delivering trophies. The 58 year old, a former Dutch International, has also achieved the impressive feat of keeping squad morale and harmony at a very high level, something that his predecessors failed to do.
Whatever happens on Sunday, Van Marwijk has certainly exceeded expectations in the role as head coach and has certainly raised his stock on the International game, but it remains to be seen whether he can govern his country to glory and add the most prestigious trophy of them all to his resume.
Dutch Star: Wesley Sneijder
Wesley Sneijder is the star of the Dutch midfield. His passing ability and vision is on a par with the Xavi's and Iniesta's of this world, his eye for goal is impressive for a midfielder and, come Sunday, he will be the key to any hopes the Netherlands have of lifting the World Cup trophy.
Sneijder came through the famous Ajax academy and shone in Amsterdam during his stay there, earning him a £25 million move to Spanish giants Real Madrid. An impressive first season solidified his reputation as a world-class midfielder before a pre-season cruciate ligament injury hampered his progress and led to a loss of form in his second season.
With the massive investment Real Madrid put into their squad with the signings of Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, Sneijder was offloaded to Inter for £14m.
Sneijder instantly became a hit in the San Siro, and helped his side to an unprecedented treble, including a long-awaited Champions League trophy, with a series of stunning performances, especially in the away league of the last 16 tie against Chelsea, where he ran the show.
Now Sneijder is focused on his international commitments, and having scored the winner against Brazil in the quarterfinals and putting in good performances consistently, he is the major threat to the Spanish in Soccer City on Sunday, one that they will have to curtail if they want to be World Champions.
Key Player: Arjen Robben
Arjen Robben has returned to former glory after a sensational season at club and international level.
A star at Chelsea, he sealed a big money move to Real Madrid, and performed well during his time there. But after the arrivals of Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, Real sold him off to FC Bayern Munchen in Germany for £22 million, leaving Robben to resurrect his career. Something that he did in typical Robben fashion.
Arjen turned in stunning performance after stunning performance last season, almost single-handedly taking Bayern to the Champions League final, a great achievement. His quick feet, dribbling ability and powerful left foot are his key assets, and Spanish left back Joan Capdevilla has his hands full on Sunday, as Robben will look to constantly cut inside onto his left foot. Should they look to mark him out the game, it leaves unwanted spaces for Sneijder and Van Persie to cause problems in.
But with Robben you always know that he will make things happen.
Dutch Strengths and Weaknesses
The Dutch have made it to the final without really shining. Their solidity and ability to get the job done has been the key to their success, but what can we expect from them on Sunday?
The Netherlands have some technically gifted players, in the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van Der Vaart and Robin Van Persie, and they will create chances, pass the ball well up front and be a general nuisance.
Added to the workman like doggedness of Dirk Kuyt, Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel, the Dutch have a seemingly good balance. They also have one of the better keepers in the tournament in Maarten Stekelenburg.
However they have clear weaknesses. A lack of a natural goalscorer is a major problem. With Van Persie not on form and Kuyt not dependable, Holland have relied on Sneijder and Robben to make it happen.
If they don't perform, the Dutch will really struggle. Added to the fact that De Jong and Van Bommel are ticking time bombs, a red card is never far away. Also their defence isn't the strongest, with an aging Van Bronckhorst and their best defender being Joris Mathijsen, who is a good but not a world-class centre back.
The Netherlands will be a tough test for Spain, but there are clear areas of weakness that can be exploited.
Spain: The Story So Far
Spain haven't had it easy in the World Cup so far. It hasn't been as plain sailing as expected for the reigning European Champions, with a shock defeat to Switzerland in the competition and to the USA in last year's Confederations Cup still in the memory, but they have reached their first ever World Cup Final with their "Golden Generation.”
After winning Euro 2008, they changed coaches and appointed Vicente del Bosque, and cruised through qualification, with the defeat to the US the only blip. Coming into the tournament as European favourites, they were stunned in their opening match by the dogged Swiss and lost, a massive shock to the footballing world.
They followed this up with two scrappy wins against Chile and Honduras to book their place against Portugal in the last 16.
A better performance followed, but they only won the game narrowly to earn a quarterfinal with Paraguay, which again they were lucky to win. A semifinal clash against Germany beckoned, and although they were the better team, they didn't set the world alight.
Everyone expected Spain to blossom at this World Cup and shine; the fact is they have reached nowhere near their potential, something they will need to do on Sunday if they are to overcome the determined Dutch.
The Boss: Vicente del Bosque
Luis Aragones is a hard act to follow after the Euro 2008 triumph, but if there was anyone fit to fill his shoes, it's Vicente del Bosque.
As the manager of Real Madrid. del Bosque won two Champions League titles, two La Liga's, one Spanish Super Cup, one UEFA Super Cup and one Intercontinental Cup. His record is enviable and no Real Madrid manager has since been able to recreate his success.
A brief and miserable spell at Besiktas followed but del Bosque's reputation had been cemented by his achievements at the Santiago Bernabeu.
As a former Spanish international who won five La Liga titles as a player with Real, he has the utmost respect from his peers, and with a 93 percent winning record in his time as the manager of Spain, as well as leading them to their first World Cup final, del Bosque has proved his managerial prowess and taken the "Golden Generation" to the next level.
The stories and successes of the two managers on the touchline are quite different, but it remains to be seen whether van Marwijk can overcome the immense experience and reputation that his counterpart has in the Spanish dugout.
Spanish Superstars: Andres Iniesta & David Villa
There's one thing that Spain isn't short of, talent. They have a wealth of young and technically gifted options to choose from, and to whittle it down to two is extremely difficult, so I've gone for their two in-form stars, Barcelona duo Andres Iniesta and David Villa.
Villa has just joined Catalan Iniesta at the Camp Nou for £34m from Valencia, but he has shown that worth in this World Cup with some sensational performances and goals, leaving him just one off Raul's record of 44 goals for his country.
Iniesta has displayed his technical skill with his great passes and dribbling, and his goal against Chile wrapped up a good performance. But Spain know they have to up their level against Holland to seal a historic World Cup victory, as they have struggled so far during the tournament.
Spanish Strengths and Weaknesses
It is clear to everybody the strength of the Spanish national side, their ability to keep the ball. Their passing ability is unrivaled, their creative talents far outweigh those of any other nation and their star talents like Xavi and Iniesta are a handful for every opponent.
They also have goalscoring prowess in the form of David Villa. The unfit Fernando Torres has been a hindrance to the side, but Villa has shined, and it would be fitting for him to break Raul's Spanish record in a World Cup final victory.
Spain have their weaknesses though. Sergio Busquets is not a world class holding midfielder, but their problems are at full back.
Sergio Ramos is a happy go lucky right back that much prefers attacking to defending and can sometimes be a liability. Joan Capdevilla at left back is in his 30s and doesn't have the quality of the rest of the side, and is up against one of the best wingers in the world in Robben on Sunday.
The form of Iker Casillas is also worrying, with two better keepers in Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina on the bench, but Casillas is virtually undroppable, so Spain will have to hope he finds top form on Sunday.
Spain have weaknesses, but they are still the stronger of the two sides in the final.
So Who Will Win? My Prediction
So I have reviewed both teams, their coaches, star players and strengths and weaknesses, but who will win?
The Netherlands have some quality players, and the threat of Sneijder, Van Persie and Robben cannot be ignored, and if De Jong and Van Bommel can nullify Xavi and Iniesta then Holland have a really good chance.
However, I just think the star quality of Spain will show, and I think it will go to extra time, but ultimately Spain will triumph, 2-1, with an overdue goal from a Mr. Fernando Torres.
What do you think? Who do you think will win on Sunday night in Soccer City to become World Champions for the first time?