Spanish and Dutch battle for slice of history

[SPAIN-NETHERLANDS] For the eighth time, the World Cup final is an all-Euro showdown, and the 2010 edition will not only crown a first-time champion, it will also produce either the first team to win the title after losing its first group game (Spain), or a nation winning a final after losing twice (Netherlands).

On the dubious side, the Dutch could also be the first team to lose a third final without winning at least one. They lost to the host nation both times in excruciating circumstances: in 1974 to West Germany, 2-1, after taking the lead in the first minute, and four years later in overtime to Argentina, 3-1, after scoring a late equalizer and then hitting the post in the 89th minute.

Spain is in its first final, and along with the Dutch is the most prestigious soccer nation never to win the World Cup. Early in the competition it labored under the pressures and expectations laden onto it and the other pre-tournament darling, Brazil, which the Netherlands dispatched, 2-1, in the quarterfinals after falling behind early.

In addition to surrendering that disheartening goal by Robinho in the 10th minute, the Netherlands has given away two penalty kicks, and conceded an equalizer to Cameroon in its final group game before snagging a late winner from substitute Klaas Jan-Huntelaar. The Dutch also played their first two group matches – victories over Denmark (2-0) and Japan (1-0) – without effervescent winger Arjen Robben. They’ve won all six of their World Cup games in regulation, yet it can’t be said the Dutch haven’t overcome some adversity.

As the clear favorite in Group E, the Dutch were expected to finish ahead of Denmark, Japan, and Cameroon, and duly did so as one of only two teams taking maximum points, the other being Argentina.

Without Robben, Coach Bert van Marwijk used Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt on the right side of midfield and Rafael Van der Vaart on the left as the wide players in support of forward Robin Van Persie. Attacking mid Wesley Sneijder’s ability come deep to start attacks and also get forward to support them or finish them off hasn’t been contained by any opponent to date.

Robben made his first appearance in the third group game against Cameroon in the 70th minute, and set up the winner 13 minutes later when his shot rebounded off the post for Huntelaar to stick into the net.

Robben has scored twice in the knockout phase with a cutback move and left-footed shot against Slovakia, and a header to clinch the 3-2 semifinal defeat of Uruguay. His pace, change of direction, and eagerness to shoot have sparked a offensive surge by the Dutch, who have scored seven goals in the last three games with him in the starting lineup.

Five different players – including an own goal by Danish defender Daniel Agger – scored for the Netherlands in the group phase. Sneijder leads the team with five goals, and beyond him there’s balance; in addition to Robben’s pair, single goals have been registered by Van Persie, Kuyt, Huntelaar, and left back – and captain – Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, whose spectacular 35-yard blast into the top corner of Uruguay’s goal could well be voted best goal of the competition.

Van Marwijk needed to replace two starters because of suspension against Uruguay. Demy De Zeeuw took Nigel De Jong’s central midfield spot, and Khalid Boulahrouz took over for Gregory Van der Weil at right back. Neither replacement lasted the match, and despite the Dutch’s impressive run of a half-dozen wins, they haven’t recorded a shutout in the last four games.

By contrast, Spain has rolled into the final on a string of one-goal victories (including three consecutive 1-0 wins) and the scoring of David Villa after Switzerland stung it with a 1-0 defeat to open the competition. Villa scored both goals in a 2-0 defeat of Honduras that restored Spain’s confidence, and he netted again along with Andres Iniesta to down Chile, 2-1, and take top spot in Group H.

Villa scored in the 63rd minute to beat a Portuguese team that seldom mounted a threat, and in their quarterfinal the Spaniards had to endure a wild, back-to-back swap of missed penalty kicks to subdue Paraguay with a Villa goal just seven minutes before the end of regulation. Paraguay's pressure in the first half jarred Spain out its rhthym and nearly stole the match.

Coach Vicente del Bosque has not juggled his personnel much, except to drop sputtering forward Fernando Torres for the semifinal defeat of Germany. For that match he added Pedro, who distracted and confused the Germans with slick touches in every nook and cranny of the attacking third while playing as a winger/second forward. Otherwise the midfield has remained intact, though the alignment and patterns of play have varied. And somehow, Spain has gone through six World Cup games without a suspension.

The cohesion and continuity of Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Basquets has highlighted with each game, and for long intervals the outflanked Germans chased shadows fruitlessly in pursuit of the ball. Some fine goalkeeping by Manuel Neuer kept Spain at bay until defender Carles Puyol crashed home a dramatic header from Xavi’s corner kick.

Spain rode out the remaining minutes to win a knockout semifinal for the first time. It stands ready to eradicate decades of disappointment against a foe bearing its own stigma of failure at the final hurdle.

Paths to the final

Group phase
(Day 1)
Switzerland 0-2
Denmark 2-0
own goal 46, Kuyt 85
Group phase
(Day 2)
Honduras 2-0
Villa 17, 51
Japan 1-0
Sneijder 53
Group phase
(Day 3)
Chile 2-1
Villa 24, Iniesta 37
Cameroon 2-1
Van Persie 36, Huntelaar 83
Round of 16
Portugal 1-0
Villa 63
Slovakia 2-1
Robben 18, Sneijder 84
Quarterfinals Paraguay 1-0
Villa 83
Brazil 2-1
Sneijder 53, 68
Germany 1-0
Puyol 73
Uruguay 3-2
Van Bronckhorst 18, Sneijder 70, Robben 73
Leading Scorer
Villa (5 goals)
Sneijder (5 goals)
3 comments about "Spanish and Dutch battle for slice of history".
  1. Ronald Dennis Reyes, July 9, 2010 at 12:22 p.m.

    Spain lost to Switzerland by the score 0 - 1 and not 0 - 2.

  2. David Huff, July 9, 2010 at 1:50 p.m.

    I think the Netherlands will do what Germany failed to do againsy Spain, run straight at them and put them under constant pressure to challenge for possession and to negate any technical advantage that they may have, Van Bommel and De Jong will be key players to watch in this area. The Dutch are technically sound, physical and very well organized tactically. This game may end up being one of the great ones in WC history, can't wait to see it.

  3. Christopher Holden, July 9, 2010 at 2:16 p.m.

    This Championship game may come down to a foul call or lack thereof by the referee Webb. He's an EPL ref so he'll only call the most blatant foul, and even then maybe not. In the Germany / Spain game it was nice to see the Germans get called offside when they were fine and the Spaniards get away with a couple of standard offside calls. The non call against Ozil in the box would have been a penalty kick in the group phase -- the refs are either intentionally missing calls or they are blowing it. And for Alexi Lalas to say no foul since Spain were in control of the ball for the majority of the first half is stupid. Watch the replay of Ramos on Ozil ... foul, pk, no doubt about it. No wonder their defense is so good they never get booked unless they drag someone down in the box. What a well oiled machine. They don't need superior ball handling, or accurate passing, or wonderful shooting, or a collective mindset to dominate possession ... no none of these elements matter. When the chips are on the line they get away with all kinds of dirty tricks and flagrant fouls. Expect to see Ramos hurt Robben and that will be the end of it, just like he did to Podulski (stomped on his foot). And they will man handle Van Persie and Kuyt without any difficulty. Everyone says Spain is small, on the contrary, check this out for a small defensive front, Joan Capdevila - 6'0" - 180+ lbs; Gerard Pique 6'3" - 190+ lbs; Carles Puyol 5'10" - 175+ lbs; Sergio Ramos 6'0" - 165+ lbs. And the stopper midfielder Busquets is usually in front of this back four, and he is listed at 5'11", 183 lbs, probably more like 190 lbs ... he (Busquets), is the strongest player on the Spanish squad, and his tackles are brutal ... if he can dead leg a forward early in the game and only give up a free kick from 30 meters out that is a good trade off. Look for a lot of elbows flying on the keeper punts towards the middle of the field -- you'll notice by the time the 2nd half rolls around Spain will get every keeper punt uncontested ... LOL. Even a tough guy like Mark Von Brummel (listed 6'2" and 185 lbs) will be no match for Spain. Actually he may be the first guy carried off the field on a stretcher, or simply red carded. BET ON SPAIN ... it's a lock! Don't be surprised if this game gets out of hand right off the bat .. the Spaniards will see how far they can push Webb.

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