The neutrals deserve a romantic World Cup ending and a win for either side could satisfy their craving
A Spanish conquest in the battle of the World Cup virgins would be met with ambivalence in the Catalan stronghold of Barcelona and downright hostility in parts of the Basque country. But in a final in which both countries have waged war against the philistines down the years Spain's coronation would unite most neutrals in gratitude.
The one fault of World Cups is that they end. "On Monday there will be a huge post-World Cup blue. People will feel a huge sense of loss and of not knowing what to do," Danny Jordaan, the head of the South Africa organising committee, said. First, though, comes the seventh all-European final and the first for 32 years between two countries who have yet to taste the sweet moment of victory.
Aesthetically, and verbally, Spain are aiming that bit higher. "We want people to feel very proud because of the way we are playing and not only in Barcelona," Xavi, the oil in their midfield play, said before training. "Spain always try to play a competitive, beautiful game – attacking football, if you like. We want it to be attractive football. We want people to identify with this squad."
"I've been coach of the national squad for two years and in that time it has crossed my mind that I would love to play Spain and now it's happening," Bert van Marwijk, the Holland coach, said. "I don't have to give them the extra motivation of thinking about our past. In the semi-final, when it was 3-1, I said I was thinking back to 1974 and 1978 but now I'm not thinking about that."
Holland, who lost finals to West Germany in 1974 and Argentina four years later, have won their past 10 matches and are unbeaten in 25. Van Marwijk said he has expunged the country's over-confidence. "For two years we've worked on that from a mental point of view," he said. So the Dutch now bid to become only the fifth country to win a World Cup with a 100% tournament record and the first since Brazil in 1970 to win all their qualifying and finals games.
Against this backcloth it is impertinent to expect them to apologise for the deal they struck at the crossroads to buy more defensive resolution in return for the sale of part of their soul. No side able to call on Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie could be accused of going all the way over to the dark side. Yet most would rather see the soft-shoed brilliance of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta rewarded ahead of the belligerence of Holland's Mark van Bommel.
Not that entitlement comes into it. Spain could be the lowest-scoring world champions. For all their glamour they have finagled their way to this end-game with only seven goals. They need four against Holland to catch up with Italy (1938), England (1966) and Brazil (1994), who all won the title with 11.
Fernando Torres, their regal senior striker, has chased the shadow of his talent all over South Africa and was dropped for the semi-final win over Germany. Still bursting with zest is David Villa, the horns on the Spanish bull. Cesc Fábregas, unthinkably, is also stalked by the fear of watching from the bench.
Head-to-head aficionados will look to the struggle between Sneijder and Xavi. Inter's Sneijder, a Real Madrid discard, may go to bed having won Serie A, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the World cup, all inside 68 days.
Xavi, on the other hand, seeks recognition that he is the equal of any No10. In this tournament he has made 560 passes and created 25 goalscoring chances: eight more than any other player.
While Fábregas and Torres sweat, English football grabs at Howard Webb's appointment as referee like a drowning man snatching at reeds on a riverbank. This astonishing outpouring of pride completes the circle of English self-abasement. Good luck to Webb, and all that, but to boast about an Englishman being on the pitch with a whistle only adds to the humiliation inflicted by England's players.
Whichever the new name on the trophy a swell of satisfaction washes up to Soccer City. "This World Cup has shown a non-sexist, non-racist, democratic South Africa," Jordaan said.
"There has been a special unity. It was only 20 years ago with apartheid when black and white couldn't have sat together, couldn't have attended the same school or gone to the same beach. Now you see white faces painted in Ghana colours."
The lugubrious Vicente del Bosque, Spain's coach, who asks the country's regions to "unite" in the style of his team, will not guarantee a rare smile if his men win. He said: "My joy is on the inside." His team's joy is all around. © Guardian News and Media 2010
Keywords: FIFA World Cup 2010 finals