Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Final Countdown

The greatest event in sport is almost upon us. Tonight, an eighth nation will add their name to those of Uruguay, Italy, Brazil, England, West Germany, Argentina and France. If it's Spain, then this side will have earnt the right to be spoken of in the same breath as the Brazil 1970 team, or Holland in '74. The debate over the greatest team ever will have an extra name. The Netherlands can banish the ghosts of that '74 defeat, make it third time lucky, and finally lift the World Cup.

By now, everyone has picked sides; journalists, fans and sea creatures alike. The general consensus seems to be quite even, which suprised me, I thought far more people would have gone for Spain. They are fairly clear favourites in my view, undoubtably the best team in the world at the moment, and have completely dominated every team they've played, even the first game which they managed to lose. The lack of goals is a bit of an illusion, they have slightly lacked a killer ball so far, but have very rarely been under any sort of pressure. Aside from Paraguay's missed penalty, only Toni Kroos has even vaguely threatened the Spanish goal since Chile scored in the group stage.

In England, some people have started to call their keep ball 'tica taca' style 'boring', which is quite ridiculous. No team other than Chile has tried to attack them at any point in the tournament, so keeping possession has been vital, and they've had to wear the opponent down. When they sense a weakness they can still be scintillating, as some of the goals they've scored have proved.

The Netherlands' chances rest almost entirely on the shoulders of Arjen Robben. Since they're going to see so little of the ball, their weapon is going to be his pace on the counter attack. Wesley Sneijder has five goals (well, he hasn't really, but Einstein and friends at FIFA have decided he has) but that shouldn't hide the fact that when Robben was injured they missed him in a big way, the improvement upon his return is unbelievable.

The other key is gonna be the midfield duo of Nigel de Jong & Mark van Bommel, and how well they prevent Xavi and Alonso's distribution. Presumably the plan is to keep kicking them until they break, and since van Bommel seems to be immune to the yellow card he should get considerable opportunity to do that.

My prediction? It's not going to be as open a game as last night's was, but it's the World Cup final so be boring it will not. I think Spain will take it, but only by the odd goal as I expect the Netherlands to score, and wouldn't be too surprised if we had extra time.

As a final thing, tonight is Giovanni van Bronckhorst's final game as professional footballer, let's hope he doesn't follow too much in the footsteps of the last man to bow out in this match...

Netherlands 1-2 Spain (aet)

Robben; Villa, Torres (don't laugh)

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