Sunday, 11th July – 7:30pm
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
WORLD CUP FINAL
A whole month has passed, 63 matches will have been played by the time match day hits our screen but just 90 minutes, that is unless we’re treated to an exciting extra-time period and maybe penalties, stands between these two sides and FIFA World Cup glory. It’s a final, where absolutely anything can and probably will happen. However, the one thing we all know is that on Sunday an eighth world champion will be crowned at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, thus not only ending an 80 year drought for both parties but one of these two potential champions will become the first nation to lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy aloft on African soil, as well as claiming sole rights to being the first European country to win the competition outside of their own continent. So you could say there’s plenty of records up for grabs ahead of Sunday’s epic encounter, although the only thought racing through the minds of both squads will be getting their hands on the prestigious trophy.
So who will reign supreme on Sunday? Will it be the Dutch, who’ve been beaten finalists on two previous occasions? Or a Spanish side on the verge of crowning their EURO 2008 success with a sensational double? You’ll be made to miss the action, even madder not to have a punt on a match which only blesses our screens once every four years.
The Dutch will be praying it’s third time lucky as they meet the current Europeans champions in Jo’burg this Sunday, as two previously failed final attempts back in 1974 & 1978 will only be lamented should Holland once again fall at the final hurdle. Oranje’s claim to fame in international football is being the best footballing nation never to have won football’s biggest prize, but on Saturday they’ll have an almost once in a lifetime opportunity to go that extra mile that those gone before them previously could not.
If we’re honest, we aren’t entirely sure what to make of Holland up till this point. A lot like their final opponents in fairness, the Dutch have been able to grind out results despite not being at their free-flowing best. The vital difference being Holland boast six in comparison to Spain’s five, while the scalp of Brazil in the quarter’s will have given every single player the belief that 2010 really could be their year. It was also an indication that the Dutch were no longer cowards when it came to the crunch encounters, that they now possess the courage needed to overhaul the big teams, those who would have previously sent them packing. There has been that unfamiliar consistency from the Dutch, that desire to get things done no matter what the price or how they came across. It’s been a win at all cost exercise so far and Holland have shown no sign of letting up. The proof is in the pudding, with five of Holland’s six victories in South Africa coming by a one goal margin.
Holland had to overcome a stern and resilient Uruguay in order to make the final, but coach Bert Van Marwijk was without two hugely important players that day in Nigel De Jong and Gregory Van Der Wiel and will gladly welcome both straight back into the starting eleven for Sunday’s highly anticipated clash with Spain. Without them, with Boulahrouz and Stijn Schaars, there wasn’t that same ebb-and-flow about Holland and there was a stage in their semi-final with Uruguay that you felt a breakthrough was perhaps beyond them. We highlighted Holland to lift the trophy pre-tournament mainly because they had half-a-dozen match winners in their squad, players which could burst into life and change the entire complex of a game within the blink of an eye. Against Uruguay, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben came to the fore with two quick-fire but yet killer goals midway through the second half, and despite our earlier hesitancy and doubt, it was their brilliance which once again convinced us that they do have what it takes to reign victorious in Sunday’s final.
We’ve talked about their big names stepping up when needed; Sneijder doing so against both Brazil and Uruguay, while it was Robben who came up with the goods against Slovakia in the Round of 16, but on Sunday, against a side many believe are the best in the world regardless of what the FIFA rankings read, in Spain, Holland will need a flawless effort from every single player, subs included. The key factor will be how Holland set up when not in possession, which is likely to be a lot of the time. So much patience is required and it’s perhaps one characteristic we aren’t necessarily sure they have. Their defence will also need to put in the shift of their life’s, something else we aren’t too sure about with the Dutch. However, this team has risen above each obstacle presented to them and raised them game to another level when needed. There may be areas we Holland aren’t the strongest, but when you have players like Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, you’ll know you create chances and win games of this magnitude.
The Spanish will enter uncharted waters on Sunday as they prepare for the first FIFA World Cup final. Despite the embarrassment of riches currently available to coach Vicente Del Bosque, as well as the many talented Spanish teams that has preceded the current crop, Spain have never reached the final of a FIFA World Cup and so have already made history by qualifying for Sunday’s show-piece. You’d be foolish to think for one second they’re happy with merely that, as with the European title in the bag Spain go in search of a scintillating double to back up their EURO 2008 success and have looked every bit a potential champ despite never escaping gear 3 in South Africa.
La Roja are now favourites to clinch the title on Sunday after eliminating the side many believed were and perhaps still are the team of the tournament in Germany. If anything that’s a testament to Spain, the fact they’ve beaten the team to beat and will have taken so much confidence away from their 1-0 win in Cape Town. Spain were magnificent if we’re honest, tactically very sound throughout but the manner in which they retained possession and dictated the tempo of the game was terrifying, as up till then Germany were dominating the possession count and were the side bossing the midfield and asking all the questions. A packed out Spanish midfield completely overrun and overpowered Germany in midfield and that’s a huge concern for Dutch fans as Holland focus most of their play down the flanks and often find themselves opposed down the centre. There should be gaps in the middle for Spain to exploit, and with Xavi and Iniesta likely to run the shots, who would bet against another domineering display from Spain?
A lot like Holland in that they’ve continued a pattern of winning games by a one goal margin, so have Spain only they’ve achieved all their knock-out wins by a 1-0 scoreline. Their ability to boss the midfield and retain possession for large periods of the game means their defence rarely comes under any pressure because the opponent simply doesn’t get enough of the ball. However, despite not conceding a goal since the group, there have been signs that this Spanish defence has flaws and can be exposed. Their full-backs in particular are vulnerable. Whoever finds themselves up against the tricky Arjen Robben will need to have their wits about them, Ramos especially as the Real Madrid man does dive in far too much and could test the patience of English referee Howard Webb should he mistime his lunges. Another area of concern is at full-back, as while Puyol and Pique are sound from the air, on the floor they are so sluggish and could be undone by some neat interchanging if they aren’t careful. All of these are genuine flaws in an otherwise superb Spanish set up. If Spain dominate the midfield like they have done for most of the tournament then we shouldn’t see too many of them exploited. However, we’ve seen enough lapses in concentration to concern us and there;s certainly food for thought for all you punters desperate to dive head first into the Spanish express.
All the talk pre-final will be whether or not Del Bosque sticks or twists in regards to Pedro. The Barcelona ace was a breath of fresh air in the first half against Germany, starting ahead of the disappointing Fernando Torres, and was the best player on the park for 45 minutes; dazzling us with his mazy runs as well as showing us his cute side with some beautiful threaded balls. However, there were clear signs of immaturity in the second period, none more so when presented with the opportunity to wrap matters up by passing to Torres, who would have had the goal at his mercy, only to go alone and fluff his line. The promising Pedro was subbed minutes later leading to speculation that Del Bosque has no time whatsoever for selfish individuals and could well recall the services of Torres, a player of the highest calibre despite a disappointing tournament thus far. It was, however, Torres who scored Spain’s winner in the 2008 European final that ended the country’s lengthy drought without a major honour, so Del Bosque knows exactly what he’s getting with Torres and that’s a proven match winner, tournament winner even!
It’s so important that Spain dominate from midfield once again as that is where their previous games have been won. While they’ve often found chances hard to come by, their persistence to keep the ball leads to their opponents tiring fast which then leads to gaps opening up through physical and mental fatigue. This Spanish side have been teaching everyone a lesson in how to grind out results and we see no reason why they should change their approach now. After all, they’re playing against a Holland side which doesn’t have the strongest of defences. The problem being Holland have the quality in the final third to punish any arrogance shown on Spain’s part, so it’s crucial, I would even say imperative, that Spain take away the legs of Holland’s key individuals by passing them to death.
The expression “Thee of little faith” instantly springs to mind with this selection, as we backed Holland to win South Africa 2010 weeks ago, but we’ve been an admirer of the Spanish machine all tournament even though they’ve found goals hard to come by and have often needed a bit of fortune and tenacity to see them through games. For us, it’s the midfield which ultimately swings it in Spain’s direction, as they have the ability to run teams into the ground with their passing. If Holland can grab the early initiative by scoring first then we will have a different game altogether, one far open than many anticipate, but we have our concerns and doubts should Holland take as long as they did against Brazil and Uruguay to settle into this game. We hate to say it, but Spain to seize the moment and clinch the 2010 FIFA World Cup.