Ostensibly I should not have to write a preview of the World Cup final. You all read this site almost daily and have chosen a side for the final for better or worse, whether you are an old hat Dutchman, a lovely Spaniard, or just a fan of one of the teams. So instead of going through the inner workings of these two teams and telling you about how the Netherlands no longer play “Total Football” (nor could they or any other team in this day and age since the Germans figured out how to pick that lock about 35 years ago) or that La Furia Roja aren’t “Barça Lite”, they are FC Barcelona with 3 or 4 transplants. I will go through some of the myriad thoughts I have on the game and its players and you guys can knock it around in the comments as well.
–Xavi. We of course take him for granted. “Oh yeah, the 5’8″ central mid, sure, he’s good” you might say. What we fail to take into account is his movement in space without the ball. The obvious key to Spain and Barcelona’s style of play is space and the ability to pass into space to open players. And we all know that he passes better than almost anyone alive, but what you might miss is that he runs into space. Wide open beautiful space that brings defenders with him and opens lanes up for teammates, like Iniesta, to move into.
–Sneijder. If the Dutch win tomorrow, he’s likely going to be named the Golden Ball winner barring some crazy heroics from David Villa in a losing effort. Sneijder has certainly been the most *visible* and probably popular member of the Oranje, and honestly his goals have been spectacular, if also very lucky. He’s looking to win the Champion’s League and the World Cup in one calendar year, which would give him 4 trophies on the year. I’m glad he left Madrid, personally.
–Stekelenburg. I’m sure you’ve seen me talk about him here a lot, but he’s truly been a revelation this tournament (the stinker against Forlan notwithstanding). For a player who was chronically labeled as Holland’s weakest link, leading many to beg Edwin van der Sar to come back, he has acquitted himself in a huge way. If not for his point blank saves after grievous defensive lapses against Slovakia, the Good Ship Netherlands would have been sunk by an inferior team punching above its weight. Barring some monumental collapse against Spain, he’s my #1 for Best XI.
–Busquets. Hey, don’t kill the messenger. Vincent of the Forest (and Pep for that matter) loves him some Sergio for a reason, and it’s not because his daddy was a goalkeeper at Barça a few years ago. A comment I made to Isaiah after the Germany game sort of brought it out to me, perhaps the reason you think he doesn’t play very well is because he doesn’t stand out when he’s doing what he’s supposed to. Against Paraguay he left the central defense exposed a couple of times, but against Germany, he was a rock. Completing a ridiculously high amount of passes, many of them very short, and you might complain about it, but that’s just what he does. He is Barcelona style in defense: pressing other defenders, linking with the rest of the midfield, winning balls, and the like. They complain about missing Senna or that Busquets stays home too much, but to me, he’s right where he needs to be.
–Netherlands. They can win this by mastering the counterattack game, not playing too terribly high in defense, and not “fearing” Spain’s possession by respecting it too greatly as Germany did. Then again, all these things are easier said than done. Sneijder, his luck notwithstanding, has been an absolute stud in orange this summer; his moves are too fast for many defenders. And as I, and many others, have said before, Robben’s cutting inside on the right is the Dutch offensive key; his dummy foot unlocks their world. Conversely, avoiding defensive lapses is their most obvious defensive responsibility. Allowing a replay of the Robinho goal or the Vittek shots will result in a rout.
–Spain. They will play their game, regardless of what the Dutch do. Xaviniesta will combine to make unleash hell from such a beautiful source. Ramos will maraud, like the dictators of yore. Pedro, well, his arms will flail when he runs, which means he is going to score (or that he has poor running form). Pressure on defense is the name of the game here, much more so than any other game they have played. With no pressure to ward off Sneijder and Robben, or allowing van Persie to take potshots, Spain will be undone. A replay of Paraguay from Pique, Puyol, and Busquets would be ill-advised, at best.
I can’t give you a prediction, I have just can’t seem to break it down. I’d say 2-1, but that seems all too predictable. Equally, 1-0 in either direction is unbelievable, as shutting either team out is highly unlikely. I don’t think the Netherlands will sit back, meaning goals will be there for the taking. So… 3-2?
This is a game between two teams who have never won the World Cup before. The two best teams never to have done so. Nike versus Adidas. The originators of Total Football and its spiritual successors. In the end, it was what we thought it was. Go forth and enjoy.