2010 FIFA World Cup Final Countdown: Netherlands vs. Spain

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2010 FIFA World Cup Final Countdown: Netherlands vs. Spain
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And then there were two.

In just over 24 hours time, the Netherlands and Spain will take to the field in the Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa as the World Cup comes to a close.

The Final will be historic for many reasons.

It is the first time a World Cup has taken place in Africa, and either side will be crowned champions of the World for the very first time. This will also be the first World Cup Final that does not include any one of Italy, Brazil, Argentina or Germany (including West Germany).

Astonishingly, it will also be the first time the two nations have played each other in a major competition. They have met just nine times in competitive games (qualifying) with the scores leveled at four a piece and one draw. Tomorrow, we will see one go ahead in the head-to-head, and in doing so win the biggest sporting prize on earth.

Considered to be two of the greatest footballing nations never to have won the biggest prize, both Holland and Spain have the chance to right this perceived wrong tomorrow evening.

While Holland's great teams of the 70s came up one short in 1974 and 1978, Spain's greatest achievement was a fourth place finish in 1950.

There is a glaring contrast between both teams' past and present.

While the current Dutch side are said to pale in comparison to the Total Football teams of era's past, Spain is witnessing its "Golden Age" as its starting 11 is largely made up of Barcelona and Real Madrid players.

But names and words will count for little on the pitch tomorrow night, as nerves must be conquered if either side is to resist buckling under pressure.

On paper, Spain have the advantage, but when was anything ever won on paper?

 

The Tactics and Key Players

Spain only know how to play one way: attack.

This has served them well to date. They have lost only two of their last 54 games, winning the European Championship along the way.

Expect no change to their tactics tomorrow night as they line out in a 4-2-3-1.

Captain Iker Casillas will start in goal, with Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Carlos Puyol and Joan Capdevila making up the back four.

Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets will continue as the link man and mop-up players respectively.

Up front is where it starts to get interesting and where coach Vincente del Bosque will leave people guessing.

Andreas Iniesta and Xaví are guaranteed to start, as is David Villa. The question is who will get the last spot in the front three behind Villa?

Fernando Torres has been woefully off form since coming back from injury and was dropped for the semi-final encounter with Germany. His replacement, Barcelona's Pedro, had a decent game.

He linked well with his Barcelona counterparts but was guilty of over-carrying the ball and passing too late. This was highlighted best in his greed when he should have passed to Torres when two-on-one with the keeper. Instead, Pedro left the German defender get back to clear the ball. He was subsequently substituted and it is to be expected that he learnt a harsh lesson that night.

Throughout the tournament, Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas has cut a forlorn figure on the Spanish bench. He has yet to start a game, but has made three sub appearances, although he stayed rooted to the bench against Germany.

He made quite a difference against Paraguay when he came on, but be it for injury or other reasons, del Bosque doesn't see him fitting in and don't be surprised if he plays no part in tomorrow's showpiece.

Spain can also choose from David Silva and Jesus Navas, but the money is on either Torres or Pedro to get the nod.

Spain's key men are Casillas, Iniesta, Xaví and Villa.

Despite their star names and the clubs they play for, Spain have a dodgy back four. Evidently, they are not a "poor" back four, but they are prone to lapses in concentration and all four have a tendency to neglect their defensive duties in getting forward.

On more than one occasion, they have been saved by their wonderful goalkeeper. If it does go to a penalty shoot-out, don't bet against Casillas either.

The creative duties will be largely left to Xaví and Iniesta, with Villa expected to produce the end product.

With Spain so adept at passing, creating and scoring (even if it's not as many as before) the question for Holland is how do you stop a problem like Villa, Iniesta and Xaví while not falling into the trap Germany did?

Coach Bert van Marwijk must look to the Chile/Paraguay model and not copy what Germany did.

While Chile and Paraguay pressed high up the pitch, Germany let the Spanish have possession and tried to snuff out attacks in the final third. The Germans never got hold of the ball and didn't get the opportunity to avail of their speedy counter-attack.

To date, the Dutch have ground out results.

Marc van Bommel and Nigel de Jong have worked tirelessly in midfield and will have a big game tomorrow night against Xaví and Iniesta. Expect them to give their Spanish counterparts an early kick or two to let them know they are in a game, but by now the Spanish are used to getting kicked.

It will be a massive 90 minutes (at least) for the Dutch back four.

Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst has belied his age at this World Cup. Many expected that he and right-back Gregory van der Wiel (who will return from suspension) would be the defensive weak links, but in contrast both have had fine tournaments with van Bronckhorst capping his with a fantastic goal against Uruguay.

Although they have only conceded five goals, the first choice center back pairing of Joris Mathijsen and Johnny Heitinga are a worry, and they will need to be on full alert with David Villa prowling.

In goal, Maarten Stekelenburg was having a decent tournament until his lapse in judgement against Uruguay which allowed Diego Forlan to equalise.

So while the defensive players will have their hands full, the attacking players will have to use any possession they can get to effect.

Spain, do what other teams should do to them, they press all over the field.

The Dutch front four of Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie will not be allowed time on the ball, so their passing must be crisp and fast.

Kuyt will run himself into the ground, and will hope to pop up with one of those important goals he is in the habit of getting.

Sneijder will pull the strings in midfield while Robben will be expected to run at the Spanish defence to try and draw them out and make space for van Persie.

The Arsenal man hasn't being having the tournament everyone was expecting. He has looked short of his normal pace and isn't putting away his chances. However, his link play has still been top notch and it will only take 10 seconds of van Persie's magic for Spain to find themselves behind.

The key men in the Dutch side are van Bommel, de Jong, Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie.

If the two holding men can do their job well in midfield and get the ball to the aforementioned attacking players, Holland have as good a chance as Spain in winning this title.

However, if they do as Germany did and let Spain have the ball, it could be a long evening for the Dutch.

 

Who will be champions for the first?

The million dollar question.

An octopus thinks it will be Spain, while a bird (the feathered kind) thinks it will be Holland.

Spain go into the final as favourites, but the form book goes out the window in a final. Both sets of players will be under immense pressure and it could well be whoever holds their nerves better that will return home with the title.

 

Odds

Ladbrokes:    Holland 11/8  Spain 8/15

PaddyPower: Holland  6/4  Spain 8/15

William Hill:   Holland  6/4  Spain 4/7

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