By Denis Heptonstall of The National Game
The FIFA 2010 World Cup final should be an absolute classic.
Holland and Spain will meet at the Soccer City stadium on today in what promises to be a fascinating match, where Spain are bookies’ favourites at a measly 2-1.
Presumably they have taken a lot of early money on Spain and are seeking to balance the books. Either that or they fear that Paul the psychic octopus, (now on a roll) may be correct again, and his selection might attract a lot of interest from the horoscope brigade. Well you would place a bet on Spain because a mollusk-brained cephalopod appeared to pick them, wouldn’t you?
A female senior manager in the office where I carry out my day job suggested Spain will win the World Cup because “they are better looking than the Dutch.” Do mollusc – brained cephalopods live out of the water also?
For nearly three weeks Germany looked to me as though they may run away with this competition – especially after their slaughter of the then highly-rated Diego Maradona’s Argentina, which made everybody sit up and pay attention. Previously thumping England 4-1 didn’t really register them on the Teams-to-Watch radar.
But then along came Spain, who until that game had been lethargic and disappointing, as their normally neat passing went seriously awry. They had been kept in the competition by David Villa whilst ‘Golden Boy’ Fernando Torres, of whom much had been expected, had failed to shine.
Man-for-man the Spanish players were better on paper than the Germans. Indeed they are seen as an extension of the highly talented Barcelona side. Although the comparative form to that point, told a different tale. But the Spanish, like true champions can, raised their game to beat the Germans, who missed Muller and at times appeared leggy.
The Spanish worked hard, surprisingly so, given what had gone before. Their technical, short-passing game was back to its best and made it look at times as though they had more than eleven on the pitch. Perhaps the Germans would have fared better against the Dutch because their styles are similar. Well, that’s water under the bridge now.
However, because Germany may have fared better against Holland, it doesn’t follow that Spain will also beat Holland. In the Dutch, we have a side that has not put a foot wrong. They are criticised in Holland for being too conservative, but they have been undone in the past playing attractive football. Looking good may get you more sponsorship, but it does not win you a tournament.
Portugal looked very good when they played North Korea, and Germany looked good throughout, but the two sides remaining have focused on getting to the final without trying to impress.
So, why will the final be a classic when Holland play a conservative game and Spain play a very technical game? Well let’s look at the numbers.
Holland were the best in European qualification and when they beat Uruguay last Tuesday, they extended their unbeaten run to 25. They have scored 12 goals in the finals. Spain have scored 7. Holland beat Brazil.
The Dutch invented “total football” and through Johan Cruyff it was adopted and customised by Barcelona. Holland are now a paler shade of orange than they were in the Cruyff era.
Bert Van Marwijk gives Sneijder and Robben greater freedom than the rest of the team but like Spain their play is focused on passing, the strong midfield and positional interchange.
So we have two teams of very talented individuals, who play well together because of their Barcelona and Ajax links, fighting for immortality. The egos, which ruined the hopes of England and France, have been kicked into touch by these players. Soccer City stadium will be lit-up by the greatest football spectacle the World Cup final and every piece of the action will be relayed around the planet – when the only people outside are film crews making post-apocalyptic movies. And to the victor, go the spoils. How can it not be an absolute classic?
Who is going to win? Well if the mollusc gets it wrong, he’s stuffed, because he would be no longer psychic. For me it’s less of a risk. I expect to see a great game and I think Holland may take the prize.
Bert Van Marwijk said at the press conference yesterday, “This is the most important match of our lives – nobody in Holland has ever been world champion.” I wouldn’t dwell too much on that point if I were you Bert.
Denis Heptonstall writes for The National Game.