Saturday, July 10, 2010

World Cup Final: Netherlands v. Spain in a no-holds barred final cage-match of death!!!

We're finally here. Here it is. Here we go. Allons-go, as they say in Frenchville. This is happening right now. Right here, right now. Unbelievable. (No, really, click those links, you'll thank me.)

Netherlands v. Spain, mutha-BLEEP-a!

Dear Arjen Robben: you are too gifted to roll up into a ball when you get lightly fouled. Get the shit up and do what you do best.

Dear Laurel: Robben is a whiny bastard. He doesn't deserve your loyalty.

Dear Spain: Enjoy the World Cup win, Germany will have something to say about it in four years.

On to the real preview, assuming that's what you're here for. Netherlands and Spain face each other tomorrow in a historic final:

Every final since the dawn of time has featured one of the following teams: Argentina, Brazil, Italy or (West) Germany. It's a wild fact I had to double-check; Wikipedia doesn't lie, right? This is the first final without one of those four teams.

Both teams have the chance to win the World Cup for the first time. The Dutch have lost two previous finals, 1974 and 1978, losing first to West Germany then Argentina. Spain have featured in the final four in 1950, but in a vastly different format: rather than play-offs, the four teams played a round-robin, in which Spain drew one and lost two, including a 6-1 loss to Brazil in front of 152,000 Brazilian fans in the legendary MaracanĂ£ stadium. They haven't done better than the quarterfinals since then.

Of the current crop of superstars on the Dutch team, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel all come across as dicks. There's something in the Dutch footballing experience that breeds superegos, more so than many other countries. It's often blamed for why the Dutch have only won one major title (Euro 1988) even though they've boasted some of most talented squads in the world over the years. This player doesn't like that player, this coach doesn't like black players, etc.

Spain, on the other hand, and if we believe the pundits, have struggled because of strong regionalism. Catalan players don't like Castilans and vice versa, the Basques don't like anyone, etc. Could be something to that, I suppose, but the current squad show no signs of disharmony, probably because the majority of them play for Barcelona and the other players have to fit in with them and their playing style.

On to the teams:

Both teams are stacked with talent and are well-organized by their respective coaches. They play with similar styles but with quite different approaches. Spain run everything through the middle; they easily have the strongest midfield on the planet, with Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Iniesta all world-class. If the squad has a weakness, it's the lack of width at times and the lack of out-and-out wingers. Only Jesus Navas can be considered a true winger. Forwards Villa, Torres and Pedro are all comfortable working on the wing, and both fullbacks can attack well down the sides, too often Spain look back to the middle when they could go wide.

The Dutch like to move things out to the wings quickly, and with star winger Arjen Robben in top form, one can see why. The hard-working Kuyt also provides good width, and substitutes Elia and Babel are both accomplished wingers. In the middle they have Sneijder supported by two hard men, de Jong and van Bommel; none of these three have shown themselves as great passers this tournament. Sneijder has scored, and both de Jong and van Bommel are tough defensive midfielders; Van Bommel can also score.

Up front each have skilled strikers, but on form you'd have to give the advantage to Spain's David Villa over Robin van Persie. He's created goals and poached some easy ones while van Persie has struggled to show off his vast talent, starved, perhaps, of good service. Torres has had a disappointing tournament, but should see the start after Pedro's selfishness denied the Spanish an insurance goal in the semi. Llorente impressed in the short time he had on the pitch in the quarters, but he's more one for the future. On the bench for Holand, Huntelaar is only decent.

At the back the advantage has to go to Spain. Centre-backs Puyol and Pique are phenomenal together, and while Sergio Ramos struggles defensively at right-back, he's such a threat going forward and is supported well by Pique and Busquets. On the other side Capdevila is solid.

The Dutch backline is good but not great. Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst is a danger on the wing and defends well, while van der Wiel on the right side is young and impressive but irresponsible on occasion. In the centre, Mathijsen, Heitinga, Ooijer and Boulahrouz have struggled for cohesion at times.

van Bronckhorst shows how dangerous he can be.

Between the sticks the Spanish have Iker Casillas. Saint Iker to Real Madrid fans, Casillas has been one of the best keepers in the world for years. Still only 29, he's been the first choice keeper for 8 years, accruing a substantial 110 caps. He hasn't been great this tournament, but he's been good enough and excellent when needed.

Stekelenburg for the Dutch is a lesser-known entity, and while he has mostly done well, even pretty amazing at times, his performance against Uruguay will have left a few fans worried.

The Spanish have Pedro (23 goals last season), Llorente (also 23 goals), Fabregas (19 goals, 19 assists) and David Silva (10 goals, 12 assists) and young playmaker Javi Martinez all sitting on the bench. Their substitute list is stronger than most other teams.

In addition to Huntelaar, Elia and Babel on the bench, the Dutch have Affelay, a young, fast attacking midfielder. Elia and Affelay have impressed this tournament. Babel has struggled at Liverpool.

Advantages I'll give to the Spanish: goalkeeper, defence, playmaking in the midfield, an in-form striker and depth.

Advantages to the Dutch: scoring midfielder, in-form winger, hard-working forwards, defensive midfielders.

So, where does that leave me? With a 2-1 Spanish victory in extra time. It's tempting to go for a 1-0 win. Hmmm, might have to rethink this.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

World Cup Semifinal #2: Germany v. Spain

Not sure why, but I'm not as excited about this one as I thought I would be. Could be because I'll be happy if either team win. And here's why:

Spain are the underachievers, never having gotten past the quarterfinals before, even though they are one of the strongest footballing countries in the world. I'm not that up on Spanish footballing history, so I can't tell you why that is.

I've also been cheering for Spain since before they won Euro 2008, and I love to watch them pass and pass and pass, but only as long as there is some intent, some drive, and that killer final ball that cuts open opposition defences.

In Xavi they have the best midfielder in the world, and he's pretty much my footballing hero.

Germany, on the other hand, are young, cocky, capable, and exciting to watch. Bastian Schweinsteiger has become one of the best midfielders in the world this year, transformed as he has been from a traditional attacking winger to a holding midfielder/playmaker role. He was all over the park against Argentina, in both attack and defence. Look for him to have a good game. Also, Miroslav Klose has the chance to equal or better the record for most goals at World Cup tournaments; he has 14, one behind Ronaldo (the Brazilian original, not the Portuguese pretty-boy).

A Netherlands-Germany final would be a repeat of one of the classic matches of all time, the 1974 final (apologies for the music):


I'm not going to go too much into this game, other than to say that yes, the 1974 Dutch team was the greatest never to win the Cup, along with the 1954 Hungarians. World Cup 1974 gave us the Cruyff turn. (Johan Cruyff, one of the best players ever, actually invented this move? So it would seem. Watch the video, it's great.) The Dutch, apparently looking to humiliate their West German opponents, went on to lose after going up 1-0 in the second minute then playing keep-away for the next 20, happy to make the Germans look bad. It didn't work, and Germany went on to win 2-1.

I would love to see the Dutch finally win (unless Robben scores the winning goal; that guy is a whiny bitch, sorry Laurel), but I would also like to see this German team win, fun as they are to watch. I would also be very happy if Spain won tomorrow and then took the Cup, the first team ever to win the Euro then the World Cup.

But who do I think will win? Good question. I am really leaning straight as a post.

The Spanish defence hasn't been airtight, and this German team can and will score. No one has held the ball as much as Spain have though, so Germany's chances will be fewer than against Argentina. And apologies to Heinze and co, but Spain actually have competent defenders, unlike Argentina. Or at least a coach who understands that you have to put some thought into defending.*

Germany did a great job of stifling Messi and Higuain and whoever else Maradona threw on to try and grab a goal. Can they do the same to David Villa, Iniesta and Xavi? Perhaps. Villa seems to be scoring goals at will, so I wouldn't want to count him out. Torres has been crap, other than for 15 minutes against Chile; I imagine del Bosque will start him, as he hasn't varied yet, but at least he took him off earlier last match, and Fabregas added some life to the side when he came on.

I picked Spain to win this match before the tournament started, but I just feel like the Germans have a great thing going and won't let up. They're only the second team to score 4 or more goals three times in a World Cup (un-researched, just repeated). They have defended well against skilled players and they have hit on the counterattack so often and so well that I can just see Puyol and co being pulled apart at the back once or twice, especially if the fullbacks Capdevila and Ramos push ahead too far. Watch for them to be fairly choosey about going forward.

I will say, though, that if Spain can rattle Germany like England did and then keep them rattled, they could just as easily win as lose. After England scored their first, Germany looked a bit shaken, and started to show a bit of nerves. Unfortunately Spain don't play a high-tempo game and could let them back into it if they go ahead.

So with all that rattling around your brain... 2-1 Germany over Spain. Ouch. Could go either way, though (he said, carefully hedging his bet). I just hope it doesn't go to penalties.

* That Javier Zanetti, captain of the Champions League winning Italian side Inter and one of the best right-backs in the world, wasn't picked for the World Cup squad by Maradona is a crime. Guess where all of Germany's goals started? (Yes, all four.) Hey, on Germany's left side, where Zanetti should have been. Fancy that.

Monday, July 5, 2010

World Cup Semifinal #1: Uruguay v. Netherlands

Without Suarez, Uruguay will struggle. Robben should own whoever comes in in place of Fucile at left back. Robin van Persie should have more freedom against Lugano's replacement. Uruguay will look to defend well and hit the Dutch on the counter. I don't think they'll have enough.

Netherlands 2-0 Uruguay