Spain-Netherlands: First-time winner coming
The first World Cup in Africa appropriately presents something
new: Spain or the Netherlands as a first-time champion.
The Spaniards and Dutch will meet Sunday at Soccer City after
winning tight semifinals. It’s the first final for the Spaniards,
who broke a 44-year major championships drought when they won the
European crown two years ago.
For the Dutch, its a third trip to the title game, having lost
in 1974 and ’78. The nations never have met in a World Cup and have
split nine games 4-4 with one draw.
Spain is a 1-2 favorite to win the final, according to
Both teams rolled into this tournament with long streaks of
success, and the Netherlands’ string remains intact: 25 matches
without a loss and 10 straight victories, including all six in
South Africa, the only team to manage that.
“We know we can play football,” captain Giovanni van
Bronckhorst said. “To be mentally strong is now most
Mentally fragile has been the World Cup description for both
nations. The Dutch in particular regularly have wasted their deep
pool of soccer talent by going out early in big events since the
loss to Argentina in the 1978 final. They won the ’88 European
Championship and fell to Brazil in the World Cup semifinals 10
Other than that, it’s pretty much been rotten Oranje.
Spain didn’t even do as well at the Netherlands, consistently
flopping in the biggest moments. But the so-called golden
generation for La Roja has changed the team’s direction, and it
showed in particular Wednesday night against Germany.
No team was more dominant in this World Cup than the Germans,
yet they played conservatively, even a bit timidly when faced with
David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and the rest of the
Spaniards. So Spain controlled the match, finally breaking through
on Carles Puyol’s header goal – you can bet Germany wasn’t prepared
for a defender to provide the only offense.
“The group deserves this but we want more,” said Spain striker
David Villa, who is tied with Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder
for the tournament scoring lead at five goals each. “We are happy
to be in the final, that was our objective, but now we want to be
To be champions, the Spaniards will need to shut down the Dutch
the way they did the Germans, who lead the tournament with 13
goals. Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and the
rest of the Oranje have 12 goals and can crush opponents when given
room to create.
But so can the Spanish, the best passing team in the world; yes,
even better than Brazil.
Don’t look for counterattacks Sunday. The Dutch will build their
probing offense from goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg on out,
unafraid to let their somewhat inexperienced keeper begin the
passing sequences they favor.
Spain will get the ball to the feet of Iniesta or Xavi, then try
to spring Villa or someone else down the wings or in the middle.
Long passes will be rare. Shots might be, too.
Goals? Whichever team calms its nerves best should get enough of
them to finally carry off the prize.