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Netherlands vs Spain: World Cup Final Preview

It’s here! The biggest game in the world’s biggest sport has finally arrived. Before the tournament kicked off a month ago, people were speculating on who would win. Many of the nations mentioned (Brazil, Argentina, England) have fallen by the wayside and we are left with two teams who have long been seen as two of football’s perennial underachievers, the Netherlands and Spain. Amazingly, the two have never before met in the World Cup and the winner is guaranteed to be a new name on the World Cup trophy. Sport Report previews this intriguing battle of two European giants.

Spain

Spain are arguably the best side in the world having beaten all comers over the last three years. The team is packed with world-class operators from Iker Casillas in net to David Villa up front and unlike other nations, (no names mentioned!) they live up to the hype.

Key Players

Xavi: The diminutive midfield maestro is probably the best player in world football about now. He never seems to give the ball away, directs the team like an orchestra conductor and even chips in with the odd goal. Quite simply, he is the heartbeat of the team and if you stop him, you stop the supply line and are a good way towards stopping the Spaniards. The Netherlands will surely target the Barcelona man as someone who needs to be closely watched.

David Villa: Indisputably one of the stars of the tournament and the joint leading scorer with 5 goals. Villa has long been an elite class striker bagging goal after goal for both club and country. His international record of 43 goals in 64 games makes El Guaje one of, if not the, most profilic striker in international football and he always seems to get it done when it matters. This World Cup has been no exception, even if he has been asked to play in an old-fashioned outside-left position. The Germans did a good job of nullifying him in the semi-final and if the Dutch are to stand a chance of winning, they will need to do the same.

Andres Iniesta: Like Xavi, a product of the Barcelona system and so he plays the beautiful game in the most beautiful way. Excellent passer of the ball and also has the rare gift of being able to easily beat defenders. Goes about his job with the minimum of fuss and always seems to influence a game. On his day, he is capable of being the difference.

Spain’s strength lies in their ability to retain possession. No team anywhere in the world is as adept at passing the ball, but with this comes a tendency to overpass. At times, there can be a lack of incision and a shortage of chances created. In truth, they have been playing within themselves at this World Cup and have not really needed to get out of third gear. Scary, given that it has been good enough to get them to the final. One goal has been enough so far as their defence has remained solid, but whether this will be the case against the Netherlands remains to be seen.

The Netherlands

A good friend of mine said before the World Cup that he felt the Netherlands would win the World Cup and I have to say, I was sceptical. The Dutch have always had very good teams and players. In fact this team is less talented than those that went before it. However, they always had a tendency to self-destruct with infighting and ill-discipline often over-shadowing their footballing talent. This time around, Bert van Marwijk seems to have instilled a sense of unity and discipline not often associated with his country’s teams. Let us not forget however, that they do have some genuine quality and players in form and that having beaten Brazil, they are in the final very much on merit.

Key Players

Arjen Robben: The Bayern Munich winger has always been a wonderfully talented player but a combination of injuries and spats have often hampered his progress. That has all changed in the last 12 months since he joined fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal at Bayern Munich. A string of stellar performances in this season’s Champions League and Bundesliga have seen the flying Dutchman rejuvenated, scoring goals for fun and he has continued this form in to the World Cup. If Robben is up for it, he can almost win a game single-handedly. He has pace to burn, a wicked left foot and is capable of creating and scoring goals. Robben will likely be up against Joan Capdevila and the Dutch will look at this as an area in which they can have a great deal of success so keep a close eye on Robben in tomorrow’s game.

Wesley Sneijder: What can I say about Sneijder? He has had the season of his life, winning Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League at Internazionale. If he can help the Netherlands to their first World Cup triumph, he has to be the overwhelming favourite to clinch European and World Player of the Year. Sneijder is naturally blessed with great technical ability, something which is very evident in his passing and set piece delivery. Furthermore, he is a serious goal threat and is the tournament’s joint top scorer. Much like Xavi for Spain, he is the creative heartbeat of the team and so will need to be stopped.

Mark van Bommel: Not as gifted a footballer as the others mentioned here but he is vitally important to the Netherlands’ chances of winning tomorrow. Internazionale demonstrated that the way to beat Barcelona is to stifle the midfield and the exact same approach is required against Spain. To do this, you need to get in amongst them and hurry them up. Van Bommel is highly experienced and a real grafter in the centre of midfield. He will be key in the battle to limit the influence of Xavi. If van Bommel has a great game, the Dutch will have a real chance.

Team News

The only real big story in this area revolves around Fernando Torres and whether or not Vicente del Bosque will start with him. The Liverpool striker is undoubtedly a world class talent capable of causing defenders hell, but he has clearly been out of sorts at this World Cup. He was left out of the semi-final versus Germany with del Bosque preferring to play Pedro off David Villa. The young Barcelona man had a good game and so may well retain his place in the starting lineup, but other alternatives to Torres include another striker in the shape of Fernando Llorente or an attacking midfielder in Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas. It will be interesting to see what del Bosque does in this regard.

Summary

On paper, Spain are the better side, but football matches are won on grass not paper and they will need to earn the win tomorrow. Spain’s strength lies in central midfield, which they pack with class in the form of Xavi, Iniesta and the vastly underrated Xabi Alonso. The Dutch need to make sure that they do not afford these players too much time and space, otherwise they will keep the ball all day and eventually fashion chances for the likes of Villa. The Netherlands do, however, have players capable of doing this in the form of van Bommel and Kuyt who are prepared to put in a real shift for the benefit of the team. They also possess their own world class attacking threats in Sneijder, Robben and Robin van Persie and Spain must be wary of them. It’s an intriguing game and one which I think will be tight. I do, however, see a final score of 1-1 at full time, with the Netherlands going on to win on penalties.

Prediction

The Netherlands win on penalties

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