With the excitement of the tournament nearly over, and the third place to be decided between Uruguay and Germany, the final showpiece gets underway tomorrow night between Spain and Holland.
With no players suspended or injured for either team, the line-ups are set to be as follows:
Spain: Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Alonso, Busquets, Xavi; Iniesta, Villa, Pedro.
Holland: Stekelenberg; Boulahrouz, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst; Van Bommel, Sneijder, De Zeeuw; Robben, Van Persie, Kuyt.
Both are excellent teams, capable of some high-tempo, high-scoring play – in all likelihood, however, that is sure to fail to materialise. The only major talking point in these teams is the expected dropping of Fernando Torres to the substitutes bench. With Pedro Rodriguez, Barcelona’s young attacker, quite comfortable alongside his teammates, and with Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente a more able deputy for the role in supporting David Villa, Torres may not even come on.
While this may sound like a disadvantage to Spain, it actually unshackles them, in theory. A workmanlike ‘tika-taka’ (the Spanish name for a football exercise in short, quick passing) midfield will be able to draw the Dutch players and create space in the advanced positions where Torres has failed so far.
For Holland, this is reward for an all-round display rather than as with Spain’s David Villa shouldering the charge. Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben have been fantastic but others such as Khalid Boulahrouz and Maarten Stekelenberg have put in great shifts. After an unlucky time up front for Holland, Robin Van Persie will have an even tougher time against the mighty Spain.
Much more free-scoring than the Spanish, Holland have out-scored Spain an incredible 12 goals to 7. The popular myth is that Spain are an attacking team. Quite clearly, they are not. What the Spanish do best is defend and stifle, having conceded only 2 goals in the entire tournament. If Holland are to breach their opponents’ defence, they will need to be at their very best; Spain are a team set up to win games 1-0, or 2-0 at the most, they are excellent at defending and when ahead, rarely let slip.
Taking into account their passages to the final and the decision to drop Torres to the bench, it would be fair to assume this game will peter out to a 2-1 or 1-0 win for Spain. Holland may have reached the World Cup Final twice before, compared to a country in Spain that had never even made it past the Quarter Finals, but that experience counts for nothing.