A new champion will be crowned at the World Cup on Sunday, when Spain meets the Netherlands in a final, which has the potential to be a classic.
Well-organised and experienced but blessed with finesse and flair, Spain has the players to outplay any team in the world.
The Dutch have forwards, wingers and midfielders capable of slicing through any defence.
The first World Cup final to be staged in Africa should be a memorable one if both teams bring their best game to Soccer City.
Although some of its stars looked short of fitness and form in the early stages, Spain produced its best performance in Wednesday’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Germany. It looked more like the side that brushed teams aside to win the European Championship two years ago.
“We’ve shown that in the big moments we can grow even more,” said striker David Villa, who is level with Dutchman Wesley Sneijder as leading scorer with five goals. “We should have scored more goals, but one from (Carles) Puyol has put us in the final.
“This is one of the greatest moments for Spain, for us to be in the final of the World Cup, its history. And we want to make more history in the final.”
The European champion faces a Dutch side, which at times oozes class but has a habit of falling short when it really matters.
Although the Netherlands too has won a European title, that was back in 1988 and this is its first World Cup final since 1978 - when it lost to Argentina in Buenos Aires.
“It’s quite something to have achieved this after 32 years,” coach Bert van Marwijk said. “That only really sank in right at the end of the match when I was sitting there on the bench. But we can’t stop here. We have one more match to go.”
Van Marwijk is striving to brush aside the tendency to choke in the late stages. The team lost finals in 1974 and ‘78 when it had probably its best-ever team and has since wilted in semifinals of both the World Cup and European Championship.
“We lost that (1974) final (against West Germany) when we should have won it,” Van Marwijk said. “We had a unique generation at the time, and Johan Cruyff was the best footballer I ever saw. What we’ve done in the last two years, though, is to try and eradicate that complacency and overconfidence.”
The Dutch have won six World Cup games in a row after eight in qualifying. Van Marwijk is confident he has a team who fight for each other, with attacking players chasing back to help out defenders whenever they lose the ball.
Arjen Robben is a match-winning winger with a fast dribble and powerful left-foot shot. Although Robin van Persie has failed to produce his best form so far, an appearance in a World Cup final may bring out the best in the striker.
Sneijder is there to unlock defences with accurate and well-timed passes. But the Inter Milan midfielder has also contributed goals and could add the World Cup title to club triumphs in this season’s Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup.
“This is unforgettable,” Sneijder said after scoring in the Netherlands’ 3-2 semifinal victory over Uruguay. “I played in big finals last season for my club, but nothing is better than this tournament. We’ve got to savour this, enjoy it, and then give everything we have to claim the trophy on Sunday.”
Keywords: 2010 FIFA World Cup