World Cup Final Preview

Spain's David Villa (C), Xavi Hernandez (R) and Poland's Dariusz Dudka lie on the pitch during a friendly soccer match against Poland in Murcia June 8, 2010. REUTERS/Juan Medina (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

At stake on Sunday is the title ‘Best Side Never to Win a World Cup,’ a label both Spain and the Netherlands will wish to avoid. The two highly regarded national teams have historically produced beautiful soccer but no World Cup titles.

Spain's Potential Formation

Sunday’s final should echo Germany and Spain’s matchup from two days ago, ie Spain will almost always have possession. Netherlands, like Germany, use a 4-2-3-1 and rely on the counterattacking talents of their creative midfielders (Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder, and Arjen Robben). Since the Dutch won’t be missing any key players – Germany were unfortunate to play without Thomas Muller – the final could have more goals, but only if the Netherlands can somehow bottle Spain’s midfield.

To maintain possession, Vicente del Bosque’s side uses 4 central midfielders (Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, and Sergio Busquets). Their precise passing, and the dribbling skills of Xavi and Iniesta, mean Spain’s opponents are always hard-pressed to prevent long sessions of keep-away, so Dutch attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder will need to do more defensive work than is the norm. If he doesn’t, Dirk Kuyt is most likely to pick up the slack.

The Dutch will hope that Iniesta or Pedro will lose possession when in a central position, which would allow either Kuyt or Arjen Robben to find space along the flank. Spanish left back Joan Capdevilla will be aware of the danger posed by Robben, and the fullback might be circumspect in his attacking runs.

Difference Makers – Spain

FFG is not really going out on a limb here: as always, the key men will be Xavi and Iniesta. The Barcelona stars are – in the minds of FFG and soccer fans the world over – the two best midfielders in the world. They’ve been club teammates for the better part of a decade (and that’s without counting their time together in Barcelona’s youth system), leaving them with a Montana and Rice level of chemistry.

Difference Makers – Netherlands

Netherlands' Potential Formation

Tasked with disrupting Xavi and Iniesta’s rhythm are Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, two hard men who tackle first and ask questions later. If either has a poor match, the Dutch will be in for a difficult night. Due to the prowess of the Spanish midfielders, it’s unlikely either de Jong or van Bommel will move out of their own half with any type of regularity.

How do you slow down Spain? Ask Bob Bradley

Since November 2006, Spain has lost twice. Once to the USA and once to Switzerland.

At the 2009 Confederations Cup, US manager Bob Bradley, realizing his squad had no chance to consistently pressure each Spanish midfielder, positioned eight defenders behind the ball, with one striker often drifting back to further confuse Spain’s passing lanes. The US allowed Spain’s midfielders as much time on the ball as they wanted, but they tightly marked strikers Fernando Torres and David Villa, allowing Spain to spray horizontal passes all over the pitch but leaving them unable to penetrate the box on a consistent basis. However, USA did not start in a defensive shell. They were the more aggressive side for the first ten or fifteen minutes and used that opening salvo to fuel later attacks.

Since that Confederations Cup loss, Spain has faced the exact same tactic in almost all of their games, particularly in this World Cup (the lone exception being Chile). As a result, all but two of Spain’s World Cup matches have ended 1-0. What other nations seem to forget is that Bob Bradley’s men did not concede possession from the get go. If Sneijder, Robben, and van Persie see a lot of the ball in the opening minutes, they’ll be in excellent shape to stage an upset.

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. bensten says:

    I think you hit it on the nose–Holland’s midfield “steel” will be key here. If they can disrupt the Spanish midfield and push turned-over balls up to Sneijder et al, Casillas could see some action. Sneijder and Robben are currenlty in pretty good form, and Van Persie is due for a big game. This could be a classic.

    I don’t think del Bosque should start Torres, but have a feeling he will. It will be to Holland’s advantage if so …

    • Blake Owen says:

      For me there are definite parallels between the Netherlands and Brazil this World Cup: two teams that are supposed to play ‘beautiful’ soccer have been criticized for being negative, but both the historical and contemporary tags are misnomers.

      As recently as ’94, Brazil fielded a more negative side than the current team, and for the Dutch, Total Football existed for less than a decade.

      Here’s an interesting take on the Dutch from Sports Illustrated’s Raphael Honigstein, pointing out that two defensive midfielders does not a negative side make.

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