Even if the outcome of Sunday’s World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands is uncertain, one thing is clear: There will be a new name on the trophy.
Neither Spain nor the Netherlands have won the competition, and at the end of the match at Soccer City in Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg one of the two teams will become the eighth country to win the World Cup after the first-ever all-European final outside Europe.
Both coaches can call on a full squad, with Vicente del Bosque having Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who sat out the 1-0 victory against Germany in the semifinals, available.
Whether to play Fabregas or not is not the only tough decision that del Bosque faces. He also has to make up his mind whether he wants to keep Liverpool striker Fernando Torres on the bench or not.
Torres’ replacement Pedro worked hard against Germany but did not look all that dangerous and with Torres having been so influential in Spain’s Euro victory in 2008, del Bosque could well give him another chance.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk, meanwhile, has defender Gregory van der Wiel and midfielder Nigerl de Jong back in contention for a place in the team after both missed the Oranjes’ 3-2 semifinal victory against Uruguay through suspension.
If the two slip back into the side, it seems likely that Khalid Boulahrouz and Demy de Zeeuw will have to make place for Wiel and Jong.
The Dutch, together with surprise package New Zealand, remain the only unbeaten side in the tournament and although they were not as impressive in their victory against Uruguay, Joris Mathijsen is confident that they will be able to play well against Spain.
“The Spanish will come at us and that is much better for us. We look stronger against teams that play attacking football. Most of the teams that have played against us play very defensively and that makes it more difficult,” the SV Hamburg defender said.
Marwijk has an abundance of options upfront and seems likely to stick to his creative attacking players Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, who should be joined by Dirk Kuyt.
This would leave a place on the bench for Real Madrid’s Rafael van der Vaart.
Robben and Sneijder have been short-listed for the Golden Ball award as the best players of the tournament and should the Netherlands manage to overcome their opposition, the Inter Milan midfielder Sneijder would be the overwhelming favourite to win the award.
Mathijsen sings Sneijder’s praises. “He is not a player who needs to be involved in the game all the time. He is dangerous whenever he is on the ball and a player like that can always score, even if he is not constantly in the game.”
Like the Dutch, the Spanish have a number of star players in their side, with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa also being short-listed for the Golden Ball award.
Villa and Sneijder lead the scorer charts with five goals a piece and both will be hoping to add a goal to win the Golden Boot award.
And like the Dutch the Spaniards play a 4-2-3-1 system, using direct combination football and fast attacking offensive players. Both sides look dangerous and can score goals from virtually all situations.
Against Germany, Spain completely dominated the game and hardly allowed the Germans to come into the match. Their one weakness, however, is the fact that need to create many, many chances before finally finding the net and where it not for Villa’s predatory skills upfront, they would have struggled to advance as they would simply not have scored enough goals.
Never before has a team that has lost its first game at the World Cup gone on to win the tournament, but at a competition that has already thrown out a number of firsts, Spain are confident that they will be able to put that statistic behind them and add the World Cup to their Euro title.
Their belief is further strengthened by Paul the all-knowing octopus, who has so far correctly predicted the outcome of the six Germany matches.
In a televised show Friday, Paul picked Spain as the winners of the World Cup and so far he has been right. Millions of Spaniards are hoping he will be right this time too.