Four long years of waiting and it’s gone in a flash. It doesn’t help, of course, that England bowed out so soon but I have still enjoyed watching the latter stages of the competition and I think we’ve got a very good final to look forward to. I feel a bit sorry for the Germans who I thought were excellent and deserved at least a final appearance, but Spain showed their quality in the semi and the Dutch have been very effective throughout the tournament.
Which really only leaves one question doesn’t it… who’s going to win?
Obviously, Spain are going to win – because Paul the Psychic Octopus said so, and he’s in better form than David Villa and Wesley Sneijder put together. But, freakishly – almost suspiciously – lucky cephalopods aside, my money would also go on Spain.
Such a prodigiously talented group of players marked them out from the beginning as clear favourites in my book, and even without really reaching their full potential so far in this tournament Spain have shown that they are pretty close to being unbeatable on nine days out of ten. When you have a team full of players who are so comfortable on the ball and are disciplined enough to stick to their tactics religiously, you’re always going to do well.
Because people go on and on about Spain’s “dazzling” brand of attacking football – and certainly, at Euro 2008 they were dazzling – but Spain in this world cup have been a different sort of brilliant. They’ve been almost faultlessly efficient (we’re treating the Switzerland game as the anomaly that proves the rule), sticking to their tactics religiously, and having absolute faith in themselves to win each game their way.
And why not? Spain’s tactics are breathtakingly simple. They keep the ball almost indefinitely, which not only prevents their opponents from scoring, it makes them work incredibly hard trying to win it back constantly. Then, on the rare occasions when Spain don’t have the ball they are full of running themselves – because in possession the ball does the work – and so they have enough energy to play a high tempo pressing game defensively, which prevents even the likes of Ozil and Schweinsteiger from being able to play football as we saw in their semi-final.
Then, when you add into the equation that they possess match winners like David Villa, Xavi and Andres Iniesta who can change a game in an instant with a sidestep and neat finish, a cutting pass or devilishly quick feet, Spain are as near to the perfect team as I’ve seen on the international stage as I’ve seen in my 21 years – and that’s even without a mis-firing Fernando Torres, just imagine if the world’s best striker had been on form in this competition.
If that weren’t enough, consider the depth in quality they have in their squad. When you can bring on Cesc Fabregas (the best midfielder in the Premier League), David Silva (a phenomenon at Euro 2008) and Jesus Navas (a bright young wing-wizard) from the bench you can change the game in an instant. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but that Mikel Arteta has never been named in a Spanish squad is as much proof of Spain’s riches as you’ll ever need.
That said, Holland will not simply roll over and let Spain have things all their own way. A side less naturally talented than the Spanish, they have shown a similar character and determination throughout the tournament and are there on merit – they outplayed Brazil in the second half of their quarter-final, and came from behind to do so, and there aren’t many teams who could do that.
Their triple threat of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie are very nearly a match for Spain’s attacking riches and they are ably supported by Van Bommel and De Jong doing the dirty work. But – while I absolutely accept Dirk Kuyt’s endlessly willing work rate – I can’t help but feel that Rafael Van Der Vaart or Eljero Elia would complete that attacking quartet more effectively – Kuyt’s technical prowess lets him down big time.
What’s certain though, is that the Dutch have goals in them. If they can get the ball off Spain, they will be able to test out a Spain defence that hasn’t been unduly tested for most of the tournament and could well find some success. However, chances will be few and far between because Spain’s domination of possession is almost an inevitability. And that inevitability is where the Dutch defence will possibly be found wanting.
The back four of Van Der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen and Van Bronckhorst have been consistent throughout the tournament but – like their Spanish counterparts – haven’t been unduly tested. Against Brazil Andre Ooijer deputised for the suspended Mathijsen and they looked quite vulnerable for the first half hour before their midfield began to dominate the game and eased pressure on them. I’m just not sure they’ll be able to hold off Spain’s attacking threat.
I’m a big fan of John Heitinga, and with him an Evertonian was able to see plenty of him last season – though rarely at centre back. He does sometimes over-commit coming forwards towards the ball though, leaving space in behind and so he and Mathijsen – who in this tournament has shown a similar tendency – must work together to ensure they are not caught with space in behind them, it’s important that the whole back four maintains a consistent line or Xavi and Iniesta will pick them apart.
The full backs are both good attacking players and at the opposite ends of their careers – this is very much Van Bronckhorst’s international swan song while Van Der Wiel will almost certainly be plucked from Ajax by a major European club after the World Cup – but neither is a really solid defensive player. With Villa and Iniesta drifting out onto the flanks often they will be given a stern test, and I am not sure how often they will be up to the task, but I am ready to be proved wrong.
Ultimately, I simply expect Spain to frustrate the Netherlands in the same way as they did the Germans. The Dutch and the Germans (despite their enmity) play a very similar way and thrive on having a bit of time and space on the ball to get some momentum going. If Spain get up and running as we all know they can though – they simply won’t allow them that time and space. The Dutch will have to be extremely clinical in attack and resolute in the face constant Spanish pressure if they are to succeed.
But with Spain’s quality going forward, I don’t expect them to be able to last it out, as it were. Spain are comfortably the best side on paper in the world tomorrow, and if they get anywhere near their best tomorrow they will win. The Netherlands must hit them hard and fast and stop them from settling into their rhythm – if they can do that they may well claim a famous victory and emerge very worthy winners, but I wouldn’t count on it.
They Think It’s All Over World Cup Final 2010 Prediction:
Spain 1-0 Netherlands.
Have your say:
Please vote for who you think will win and explain why in a comment below…