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Five keys to determining World Cup winner
Spain will be favored in this battle of teams that have never won a World Cup, but the unbeaten Dutch are well-equipped to push the Spanish like they haven’t been pushed since their World Cup-opening loss to Switzerland.
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The closely-matched teams should engage in a tactical battle where one play, one performance or one mistake could be all that separates the champion from the team that still hasn’t won a World Cup.
Here are five keys that could determine which team wins Sunday’s World Cup Final:
Whose fullbacks get involved more.
Both teams boast fullbacks who get forward quite a bit and the team who can get their fullbacks into more effective attacking positions will have a major edge. Sergio Ramos is a valuable part of Spain’s attack because the Spaniards don’t generally employ a true right winger. If Dirk Kuyt can keep Ramos occupied he could limit Spain’s options going forward.
The Dutch boast a few fliers as well, with Giovanni van Brockhorst’s jaw-dropping goal in the semifinals a clear testament to his attacking quality. It could be up to van Brockhorst to force the issue and get forward, thus forcing either Andres Iniesta or Ramos to defend more.
How Howard Webb calls the game.
English referee Howard Webb has enjoyed a strong World Cup, which is why he was assigned the final, but he also calls a tight game and isn’t afraid to dish out cards. That isn’t good news for Dutch midfielders Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, who both have a habit of fouling regularly. An early yellow card for either of them could make things very difficult as they chase around Xavi and Iniesta.
Spain isn't without worry. Webb's quick whistle could benefit the Dutch when Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder are in attack mode, so the Spanish will need to be careful about how they defend the Dutch team's top weapons.
How the Dutch deal with Andres Iniesta.
Xavi is the key to Spain’s attack, but Iniesta is arguably the team’s most dangerous player. His quickness, versatility and ability to create make him tough to keep tabs on as he floats between the wings and central midfield. If the Dutch focus too much on Xavi, Iniesta could turn in a star performance.
It will be up to van Bommel and de Jong to find the right balance and pick up Iniesta when he cuts inside, while Giovanni van Brockhorst will also need to press Iniesta when he works the flank.
How Spain deals with Arjen Robben.
If the Spanish have a weakness, it is at left back, where Joan Capdevila isn’t the best defender. He just happens to play in the area of the field where the dangerous Arjen Robben likes to set up shop. If Robben stays on that side, and goes at Capdevila, he could have some success, and at least force Spain to bring help to that side of the field.
Another option for the Dutch is to slide Robben to the left side, where he can do battle with Sergio Ramos, thus forcing the Spanish fullback to defend more than he likes to. If the Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk pulls this move, the Robben-Ramos battle could be key to determining a winner.
How the coaches adjust.
In a battle between two strong teams, it can often come down to a coaching decision or maneuver. Be it a tactical change, or simply a lineup change, both Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk and Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque could be faced with some tough decisions. Especially if the match is as tightly-contested as expected.
Among the adjustments each coach can make, van Marwijk will need to decide if and when to bring in creative midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, who played well in the semifinal win against Uruguay, while Del Bosque will need to decide if and when to bring on Fernando Torres (assuming he doesn’t start). Torres has struggled for most of the tournament, but he’s a big-game player who also happens to be the man who scored the game-winning goal in the 2008 European Championship Final.