Spain v Holland – the unexpected final
Few before the tournament put these two together as finalists. While the Spanish were expected to do well and progress, the truth is they haven’t played anywhere near their potential and yet somehow still reached the ultimate stage. Overcoming the Germans in the semi-final with a powerful display of passing, control and midfield domination is perhaps the closest they have come to the Spain we expected. Even then it took a very Anglo-Saxon goal from Puyol to put Low’s side out.
With a strong squad and an easy group the Dutch were always considered a good outside bet to at least make the quarter finals. Then they met Brazil and responded to going a goal down with a brave second half display. Suddenly the world was forced to sit up and take notice. This collection of ugly Europeans appeared to have the right mix of resources – swift counter-attackers, hard midfielders, unflappable defenders – and began to enjoy the odd stroke of luck which even the most successful sides need.
Where the final will be won and lost
If the Dutch are to win tonight they must not cede control of the midfield to Spain’s metronomic passers. Sitting back and letting Alonso, Iniesta and Xavi string together complicated passing movements is a dangerous strategy which will ultimately fail. Sneijder and Co. have to harry and pressurise their opponents into making mistakes. Only then can the counterattacking game which has served the Dutch well so far really come into play.
The key clashes
Xavi v Sneijder: probing midfield maestro and the counterattack specialist
Ramos v Robben: hard tackling defender and the roaming forward
Heitinga v Villa: hard as nails centre half and a clever attacker with an eye for goal
Who will win?
The Dutch have little to lose and are in confident mood. They have already vowed not to repeat Germany’s semi-final mistake of sitting back and inviting pressure. The Spanish will triumph if they wrest control of the midfield away from Holland. I think the Dutch have enough tactical awareness, character and speed to win this one.
The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 Final prediction: Holland to become World Champions
Thoughts on the tournament
Some of the football has lacked quality, especially in the group stage. That said, there were some early highlights, most notably Germany and Portugal destroying Australia and North Korea. And of course Italy and France left early, which is always amusing.
The knock-out stages saw one of the fancied teams up the ante while the others continued to struggle. We went from media bluster about South American domination to the Europeans rolling over Brazil and Argentina. The latter suggested Germany were unstoppable, but even they could not contain Spain for 90 minutes. The Dutch had their toughest game a round earlier and easily saw off Uruguay.
While I would have preferred a Germany – Holland final, this is my second best option. I’m hopeful both sides will do the occasion and South Africa justice.
Talking of the host nation, the mass bloodshed and rampant crime which many predicted as the inevitable result of holding a World Cup in South Africa never materialised. The crowds have been noisy and the games (mostly) well attended. Overall, apart from the hideous spectacle of fans missing the semi-final because of delays at one airport, the tournament was well organised and well managed. Well done to South Africa. To my friends out there – you can be justifiably proud of what your country has achieved.