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.

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