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FIFA World Cup Final: Spain v Netherlands Preview

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

To say the world No.2 ranked team would play the No.4 ranked team in the World Cup Final doesn’t seem to like a bold prediction but a Spain v Netherlands final wasn’t too many peoples pick for the title decider.

The Netherlands have gone through the tournament unbeaten and played some fantastic football along the way, yet they find themselves going into a Final against European Champions Spain as underdogs.
Spain regains their mantle of pre-tournament favourites on the strength of a close win over the seemingly unstoppable Germans. Joachim Loew’s team had been riding the crest of a wave but it all came to an end when they played like they did against Serbia. The Spanish starved the Germans of possession and had them chasing shadows. Germany had their chances to win it but Spain deserved it more.
For a team whose defence had been so tight all tournament the goal the Germans let in was inexplicable. If I was a conspiracy theorist I would be on the look out for betting plunges on Spain winning in regulation time. To have five German defenders with their feet on the ground while two Spanish attackers competed against each other for the ball in the air was just bizarre.
It was a disappointing end for the Germans who have entertained with their speed and unhindered youthful enthusiasm. Along with Spain they must be early favourites to take out Euro 2012 having got the jump on Italy and France who have only just started rebuilding their teams.
Dutch coach Van Marwijk will have been rightly looking at the Spain v German game very closely. It will have been a concern how easily Spain shut down a team who play a similar style to the Dutch. They are going to have to find an answer to the ‘death by passing’ game of the Spanish or they will be toast as well. In their favour they play a slightly more physical game than the Germans and that harder edge will go some way to knocking Spain out of their rhythm.
Spain has found some form at the right time but they couldn’t have left it any later. The jury is still out on their semi-final win. Was it more due to a German collapse than a Spanish renaissance? Either way they are a worthy finalist. To win against a rampant German side who had earlier demolished an in-form Argentina was a magnificent effort.
The Netherlands unbeaten now in 25 games have the chance to move to 26 with a win in the biggest game of them all. For their fans who at times must have wondered if the glory days of the 1970’s and 80‘s would ever come again this is a dream come true. Finally they get the chance to win the World Cup crown that the arguably more talented teams of that era deserved but could not deliver.
Spain oozes class and has talent right across the park. Any doubts they were not the team they were when they won Euro 2008 have been dispelled. There is a certain swagger about them and expectation of success. The Netherlands will need to throw them off their stride. The best way is to get an early goal, then the Spanish can spend as long as they like passing among themselves in the midfield.
The Dutch in their semi-final were all over Uruguay but were guilty of switching into celebration mode about 10 minutes before the final whistle which nearly came back to bite them. Uruguay playing a similar style to the Spanish were a good warm-up for the Netherlands, but several notches in class below what Spain will be able to launch at them.             
In the Netherlands favour I believe is the appointment of Englishman Howard Webb to referee the final. While referees are neutral of course, an English referee will have a better understanding of the Dutch style which is a lot closer the English than it is to the Spanish. He is also less likely to have much time for any possible Spanish gymnastics demonstrations. Webb has had his share of controversy with the Euro 2008 match between Austria and Poland being the highlight so far. An offside goal and an injury time penalty were most upsetting for the Poles. At least he appears to keep his cards in his pocket, with an average of 4 yellow cards a game for his 63 international matches not being too excessive.
There is not much in the head to head record between these two teams with 8 matches played for 4 Dutch victories, 3 Spanish wins and a draw. Spain has scored two more goals than the Netherlands.
So who will win? Probably the Netherlands. If they can gain parity in possession and stay focused on their game plan and not the occasion then their direct approach should be decisive but not by much.
The Spanish with some justification will feel that all the years of unfulfilled promise at the biggest tournament in football in itself should deserve a victory. It will be a longtime again before they will be able to assemble a team which such depth of class as they have at the moment. For both the Netherlands and the Spanish as the world continues to see the footballing rise of Africa and Asia it might be a case of now or never.     
Kuyt, Robben, Van Persie and Sneijder versus Villa, Fabregas, Torres and Alonso – I can’t wait.

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