World Cup title matchup of Spain vs. Netherlands not surprising

Posted: July 09, 2010

You really didn't want another of those dull Brazil-Germany finals, did you?

Here is the culmination of the first World Cup played in Africa, and it has a couple of firsts of its own. There will be a first-time champion for the first time since 1998, and it's also the first time teams that have not won previously will meet for the title since 1978.

A Spain-Netherlands final should not be such a surprise.

They both cruised through European qualifying. The Dutch won eight games over Iceland, Macedonia, Norway and Scotland; the Spanish dominated Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia and Turkey in 10 games. The Netherlands won six more in this tournament, over Denmark, Japan, Cameroon, Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay, while the Spanish opened with an upset, 1-0 loss to Switzerland, but bounced back with wins over Honduras, Chile, Portugal, Paraguay and Germany.

"We won every qualifying game, every game here," Dutch star Wesley Sneijder said. "We are not going to allow that Spain beats us now."

No one has knocked the Spanish off their game of ball control, crisp passing and feeding the ball inside, where David Villa can get off a shot. You know what's coming, but once the ball is in control of the great midfield of Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, there's no getting it back. Yes, it would be great to see someone take a shot from outside the 18-yard area once in a while, but it's not the Spanish game.

The Dutch are more daring, with Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben and Sneijder doing most of the damage. And Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar really have not gotten into the mix yet.

"We play well, Spain plays well, but they are more attractive, and this is what we want to get, too," Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said. "We have been messy. We've had spells with brilliant attacks, yet we forget to score. That, though, can change within a match."

In goal, the Netherlands' Maarten Stekelenburg has the save of the tournament, against Brazil, but when a game is on the line, most observers would take Spain captain Iker Casillas, who is starting in his third World Cup and is still only 29.

What to expect?

The Dutch will attack from the start, trying to get the first goal against Spain, which has not shown comeback ability, even against the United States in last summer's Confederations Cup. But if the Germans could not disrupt the Spanish gameplan, neither will these guys. And the Spanish defense, anchored by Barcelona teammates Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique, is tougher than the Netherlands'.

The referee will be Howard Webb, of England, assisted by countrymen Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey. The three worked the Champions League final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, and now this. It means Webb is considered the best in the world.

Oh yeah . . .

Spain 3, Netherlands 2. *

Title game

Who: Netherlands vs. Spain

When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Soccer City, Johannesburg

TV: 6ABC, Univision

Radio: ESPN (97.3-FM, 97.5-FM, 950)

For kicks: A first-time World Cup champion will be crowned for the first time since France in 1998 ... The Dutch are the only team to get through the tournament undefeated, winning all six games they've played. Spain is 5-1, with the opening-game loss to Switzerland marring the record ... Netherlands has scored 12 goals, Spain seven, specializing in the 1-0 win (three times) ... Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands) and David Villa (Spain) each have scored five goals to lead the tournament ... Sneijder is going for an unprecedented personal triple. If the Dutch win, he will have earned gold medals in the World Cup with his native country and in the Champions League and Italy's Serie A while playing for his club team, Inter Milan. Inter was also Italy's Cup winner, and if it beats Atletico Madrid for the European Super Cup in August, Sneijder will have won a handful of gold medals in 3 months. That may be an all-time first ... All but three of Spain's 23 players play for clubs in their native country, while 15 Dutch players are spread out on clubs in other European countries.

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