And noooooow, the end is neeeaaaaar, and so I faaaace, the fiiinaaaal curtaaaaain...
I totally lost count of match days and I am too lazy to go back and count up from a previous post...
Welcome to the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. One month ago I made a promise to myself to blog every day of the World Cup. The fact that I managed to do it is surprising. Oh how time flies. It has slipped like quicksilver from my hands. 30 teams have tried and failed, only two valiant sides remain. A bit of luck, a bit of skill, and a bit of willpower are the only things separating these two teams from immortality.
The story lines are fantastic. The Dutch, the perennial also-rans, have been to the top of the mountain only to fail it's summit each time. A gifted generation could not secure the prize in the 1970s. The faced heartbreak in the 80s and 90s. They have a chance to take their place amongst only a handful of countries as true World champions. This is a team built on will power and determination. Only by exercising both traits tonight can they hope to claim that which has been denied their predecessors.
Their mirror are the Spanish. A team that has never made it this far before. Only in the past few years have they managed to unlock the secret to footballing greatness. The spotlight has always melted their reserve. This time they have truly put forth a golden generation of players the likes of which we rarely see. They feel the momentum, they know they can take it all. Now European champions, tomorrow possibly the best on the planet. A nation split in two, hoping to unite as one under the glory of this team of Catalans and Spaniards.
Enough hyperbole! Let's get to the nitty gritty...
Renowned World wide for the invention of the concept of Total Football in the 1970's. The theory of each player being capable of moving from his position to another with no loss in skill or capability. While this philosophy no longer rules the Dutch game, they still put forth some of the most creative, artistic players in the World who offer dangerous first touches and possession football every time on the pitch.
Spain play a possession game built on frustrating opponents and then attacking their off balance opponents. This current Spanish side has played together since most of them were in youth leagues. The majority of the team plays for Barcelona, one of the greatest and most popular sides in the World. They play with the unity of a club team in a tournament where most countries only play with the same lineup for three weeks before the tournament even begins.They hold the ball up better than other team to enter this tournament. Their passing is well known and is no secret, but is still incredibly hard to stop.
Spain -Iker Casillas
Advantage: Spain- Iker Casillas. Iker has had a tough tournament. He has been criticized for punching more balls away than trapping. However, momentum is on his side and he is still regarded as one of the top goal keepers in the World. He plays extremely well in big-game situations and is a known penalty killer. If it goes that far, Casillas has the advantage.
Spain- Joan Capdevilla (Left Back) Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique (Center Backs) Sergio Ramos (Right Back)
Netherlands- Andre Ooijer ( Left Center Back), John Heitinga (Right Center Back), Giovanni Van Bronckhorst (Left Back), Gregory Van Der Wiel (Right Back).z
Advantage: Spain- Carlos Puyol and Pique are two of the best defenders in the game right now and are very dangerous moving into attack. Bronckhorst is no slouch, but his goal against Uruguay was the exception rather than the rule. Spain's passing is the true defense of this team as they know exactly where to send the ball with almost every first touch of the ball.
Spain- Sergio Busquets (Central Midfield), Xabi Alonso (Left Midfield), Xavi (Right Midfield)
Netherlands- Nigel De Jong (Left Midfield), Mark Van Bommel (Right Midfield) Wesley Sneijder (Attacking Central Midfielder/Forward)
Advantage: Offensively, Spain. Defensively, Netherlands. - This is where things start to change dramatically in terms of lineup choices. Van Bommel and De jong are defenders first and foremost. Both are exceptionally talented but are like bouncers at a Kung Fu night club. They like to kick people...hard. A lot of this game will rest on those two and how they behave in the midfield against the keep away game that is Spain's midfield. Wesley Sneijder plays more like a forward anyway and I should really group him as such. Spain is set up for offensive distribution. Xabi ALonso is strong in attack, but he and Xavi will spend most of their time pinging in passes to Villa and Torres.
Spain- David Villa, Iniesta, Fernando Torres
Netherlands- Robin Van Persie (Forward), Dirk Kuyt (Attacking Left Midfielder/Forward), Arjen Robben (Attacking Right Midfielder/Forward)
Advantage: Draw- Why? Well, I'm factoring in a lot of different things here. Fernando Torres is incredibly dangerous, but the frustration must be getting to him and so his form has suffered. He could still have a big game that could change everything. David Villa is the known quantity so no need to dwell. He was taken out of the game against Germany, but he played in an odd role as essentially the lone striker. He plays much better when he has support. Iniesta will float in between attacking and support. He should always be guarded carefully, but he isn't the same level of threat as Villa. The Dutch essentially play with four forwards if you count Sneijder. Oddly enough, Van Persie has not been very good in this tournament. He has almost negated his importance in most matches. Dirk Kuyt will be the hardest worker on the field on that you can expect guarantee. He runs after everything in his area and tries to get to anything outside his area. He is incredibly hard to defend as he just doesn't get tired or stop running. Arjen Robben is the mad genius. Equal parts prodigy and antagonist, he confounds defenses with deft ball skill. He can be a bit predictable if you can force him across the plane of the goal and load up with defenders. Sneijder is the general on the field. He has the killer instinct to go get the ball and shoot. Feelings be damned. If he thinks he can create a better opportunity, he will take it. So Spain wins on overall talent, but Netherlands draws even with numbers and creativity.
You can almost see a bit of the Cobra-Kai sensei inside Mark Van Bommel's head screaming "Sweep the leg!". This could be a disaster for the Dutch if he lets himself get carried away. Howard Webb, the referee tonight will be watching closely. He will not be afraid to interject himself if the quality of play suffers from egregious challenges. It is very hard to cut off passing lanes when the other team rarely holds the ball longer than a touch or two. That is exactly the problem the Dutch face tonight. While they are an excellent ball control team, they suffer from a carelessness in defense that Spain absolutely will take advantage of if given the opportunity. Daydreaming about a warm summers day in Amsterdam will get a ball rammed down your throat. At the same time, Spain cannot take for granted the Netherlands skill on the ball. If David Villa is still nursing a bit of a dead leg as is rumored, then the Dutch counter attacks will come far more often. Their weakest points are at the sides where the Dutch are the strongest. Robben and Kuyt can make life miserable for them. Van Persie must live up to his billing and start playing like the superstar he believes he is.
The call: Again, I'm going to chicken out and not venture a guess. I've got my blinders on a bit as I fell in love with the Dutch team back in '98. If I am being honest, I think Spain wins tonight, but my heart will be pulling for Holland. Either way we get a brand new World Champion and soccer/football fans worldwide get a fantastic game.
Tomorrow I will give my reaction to the game and what I felt I learned from the World Cup experience as a whole. Until then, enjoy the game and have a Heineken on me. I guess you could bill me, but that would just be awkward... Tell you what, buy yourself a Heineken, if you see me down the road, I will buy the next beer. Sound good? Awesome!