World Cup showdown: spinster vs bridesmaids

2010-07-10 00:00

NEGOTIATING the pitfalls of a competitive and often treacherous World Cup with efficiency, focus and more than a dash of élan has left the two best teams in the tournament, Spain and the Netherlands, to contest tomorrow’s final at Soccer City.

While in major tournaments favourites can fall by the wayside against the odds, in this World Cup there can be no doubt that the finalists have qualified on merit, and will provide a finale of the highest competitive order.

Both teams are attacking, both excellently organised by their respective coaches, Vicente Del Bosque and Bert van Marwijk, both sides work their bones off for the good of the team, and both have shown the will to be World Cup winners.

For the first time in World Cup history, a European team will win the tournament outside their own continent. The South Americans began the 2010 World Cup winning almost everything, and all the while European giants were falling by the wayside.

But the best three teams in the tournament — Germany, Spain and the Netherlands — are from Europe, and two will contest the final. Both teams will be seeking a first-ever World Cup trophy.

Holland’s great “total football” side were losing finalists in 1974 and 1978, and the current Dutch side have at least matched that feat. And if the Netherlands have been the perennial bridesmaids of the World Cup, Spain have been the old spinster. Often talented, and having had as much success as any at club level through Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Spanish have rarely progressed into the latter stages of the World Cup, and tomorrow will be their first final.

But Spain have long since outgrown their tournament frailty. Their Euro 2008 victory took a weight off their back. And they have developed an almost unbeatable style, that, much like Holland’s “total football” generation, depends on having a squad of technically gifted, adaptable players.

While Argentina have Lionel Messi, Spain have several Messis. David Villa, who has scored five of their seven goals, the quick-footed left midfielder Andres Iniesta and playmaker Xavi are three of them.

Fernando Torres has been off form since a return from injury, and was on the bench in La Roja’s 1-0 semi-final victory against Germany in Durban. Young Barcelona forward Pedro has speed and skill and is the next in line to carry Spain’s success into the future.

Sergio Ramos has been imperious in defence and attack from right-back.

“Spain are just a wonderful team,” said Germany coach Loew after his side’s defeat in Durban. “They have players from great teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“They have been together for two or three years — you can see it in every pass they make. You can see it in a team like Barcelona, who have been almost unbeatable.”

La Roja have lost two games in the past three years, including their 35-match unbeaten run that ended with their Confederations Cup semi-final defeat against the United States last year.

But the Dutch have been catching up, with 25 matches unbeaten. And they have won every game in this World Cup so far. That includes not just their six wins out of six in the finals, but all eight of their qualifying games as well.

Holland’s answer to Villa, Iniesta and Xavi are midfielder Wesley Sneijder and winger Arjen Robben, two of the most intelligent playmakers of the tournament.

Striker Robin van Persie and hardworking winger Dirk Kuyt complete a forward line that provides an explosive end product to a style of play not as swashbuckling as previous Dutch editions, but certainly superbly organised.

In the knockout stages, Holland have moved far closer to playing classic, attacking Dutch football.

The Netherlands defence have yet to be fully tested, and there were nervous moments against Uruguay in Holland’s 3-2 semi-final victory.

Netherlands, too, will need to be more effective utilising their possession to attack more swiftly than the Germans managed against Spain, where Loew’s team were stifled out of the game in the midfield.

If Holland can produce these key aspects, then a fittingly classic culmination awaits to what has been a spectacular tournament already.

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