After 62 games played and 30 teams eliminated, we’re down to the last two teams remaining in the tournament: The Netherlands (Oranje) and Spain (La Furia Roja). To be honest, I think this is the match-up for the football purists. Two very solid squads with great passing abilities, great attacking options, and solid teamwork. Did I mention the fact that neither of these teams have won the World Cup either?
So it begs the questions: Who do you think is going to win it all?
There’s a lot of things to consider. Each team’s attack vs. the other team’s defense, the midfield battle, and other intangibles. Here’s my analysis of those:
Spain’s attack vs. Netherlands’ defense
Spain’s attack is lead by David Villa up top. He’s been probably Spain’s best player, although he has been struggling as of late. What’s scary is that struggling still has resulted in him currently in the lead for the Golden Boot, with five goals for the men in red. However, their attack is supported by midfielders Andres Iniesta (arguably the most underrated midfielder in the game), Xavi, and Pedro (or Torres). That support alone can undo any defense. It’s just a matter of time, as seen with Portugal and Paraguay, two teams who hadn’t given up goals until they played Spain. But this team is also very much a team that involves all their players in the attack. It’s not uncommon to see defenders making runs up to assist in the attack.
The Netherlands defense has been good. With defensive midfielders in Van Bommel and De Jong ahead of the back four, they’ve managed to keep control of possession and snuff out most attacks against them. But they’ve been exposed before, as seen with Uruguay and Brazil. While they do have the leadership and experience, they are a step slower than the Spaniards. That’s the big question. Can this Dutch defense handle the passing game of the Spanish? As good as they have been this tournament, Spain have a lot more speed, youth, and unpredictability that favors them over the Netherlands.
Netherlands’ attack vs. Spain’s defense
The Netherlands have a pretty nasty attacking team. It is as formidable as the Spanish attack. Precision passing, fast counters, confident strikers/wingers. Van Persie hasn’t done a whole lot this tournament, but he still provides the threat (unlike Torres). But the key here is very much like Spain’s attack: the midfield support. Sneijder has been absolutely astonishing, single-handily winning the game against Brazil with his two scores. His passing has been superb and vision great as well. With Kuyt and Robben providing support on the wings, it’s difficult for most teams to handle the kind of raw attacking power that the Oranje have. They have the passing. They have the shooting ability. They have the creativity.
The Spaniards have only conceded two goals all tournament. However, like Real Madrid, the person that they can thank for that is Iker Casillas. However, this is where problems arise. Though they have conceded only two goals all tournament, they’ve been very iffy in the back line. They definitely have had some mistakes here and there, getting caught off-guard with their wingbacks pushing too far forward or misplaying balls. A prime example of this is the goal by the Swiss in their loss in the opening game. If anything, Robben and Kuyt have the capability of exposing the wing defense of Spain and creating some chances there. Xavi Alonso and Busquets have been good holding defenders however. But they’ll struggle to contain this Dutch attack.
Netherlands’ midfield vs. Spain’s midfield
Now this is where the battle between the two teams will be won. Spain have a all-star midfield in Xavi Alonso and Busquets in holding positions and Xavi, Iniesta and Pedro (or whoever they place in there) in more advanced positions. Most of their game depends on the power of this midfield controlling the possession. By doing this, they stifle pretty much all opposing attacks in the most logically sound method: Don’t let your opponent have the ball in the first place and they can’t score. Most of their games have had them dominating possession at least 60% of the game. And don’t let the Germany game fool you with the 51% possession. They were up to 70% before the last 10 minutes of the game. But their ability to make solid, smart passes and have the creativity to find open players and runs has been their path to success. Tire out the opposing defense and then go in for the kill.
The Dutch midfield is quite formidable as well. Like stated earlier, Van Bommel and De Jong provide in the holding positions, with Sneijder, Kuyt and Robben in more advanced positions. They’re very much about the possession game as well, but also provide the creativity to create goals and grit and tenacity to win the ball as well. Kuyt is probably the overlooked player here, as he provides a strong box-to-box option on the wing, with his amazing work ethic. However, their passing isn’t as precise as the Spaniards, unfortunately but pretty close.
The key here is possession. Which team can possess the ball longer? Which can tire the other out? The game will be won here in the midfield and with Spain’s experience and cohesion from playing together for so long (and the majority of the team being either from Real Madrid or Barcelona), it’s hard to really go against them. Especially after their game against Germany today, it’s quite convincing that this Spanish midfield is arguably the best out there.
Netherlands’ bench vs. Spain’s bench
There’s definitely the possibility that this game could go to extra time. This means the importance of the bench. This is where Spain might be lacking a bit. They’ve relied heavily on Fabregas to provide the spark for the attack, in addition to Pedro. But beyond that, the rest of the bench hasn’t been counted on or as effective. David Silva hasn’t played since the loss to the Swiss, though he did come on versus Germany yesterday. Marchena, who’s been solid for Valencia, hasn’t seen much play either. Most of the other players have been used at least one, but especially with injuries and ineffectiveness, they’ve definitely been lacking here.
The Netherlands’ bench, on the other hand, has been quite good. They’ve definitely shown their depth with injuries and suspensions from various players. With Elia, Van Der Vaart, and Huntelaar coming off the bench to help the attack, and the depth in the defense (as seen after Mathijsen’s injury right before the Brazil game) and De Jong’s injury, they have players that can step up in short notice and fill in at any position.
There are a number of intangibles for each team right now. Spain’s intangibles are pretty big. They’ve only lost two games in the past two years: One to the U.S. in the Confederations Cup last year and to the Swiss in the opening game. They’ve managed to break down some stingy defenses in Portugal, Paraguay, and Germany. The unity of the team is quite strong and their knowledge of each other’s games is quite visible, as the majority of the players play in Spain. Things that go against them is their inability to provide results when it really matters. Aside from this year, they’ve been known for just collapsing and self-exploding from being inconsistent or just not being in the game at all.
The Dutch have not lost all tournament. They’ve been on a roll and the team is extremely confident, as though they’re invincible. The unity of the team has been pretty strong, even with known rifts among some of the team’s stars (see Sneijder vs. Van Persie). There’s been this professionalism that’s just unheard of when it comes to intrasquad rivalries. However, like the Spanish, their inability to provide results when it really matters has shown and their ability to keep their nerves as well (Euro 2000 is a great example, losing on several missed penalties).
But the key here has to be the style of play. The Dutch explosive attack vs the Spanish precision passing game. It’s hard to really go against the passing game, as they’ve used it to win game after game. But it has a lot to do with the unity of the squad and their understanding of each other. Without that, they wouldn’t have the success they have had. By the majority of the squad coming from the major clubs in Spain (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia), it’s provided such great experience playing with one another that the Dutch nor anyone else can really match that.
Who do you think will win?
Even with all this knowledge, it’s still hard to say. My inkling is on Spain, however. How they win is as such: They look to dominate the ball possession, force the Dutch attack to resort to just counter-attacking, and eventually tire them out to the point that they can get a goal or two and win the game. That’s how Spain have played and will continue to play. If the Dutch start pressing against the men in red like the Swiss did, they might have a chance. They do have a lot better talent than the Swiss to do it. However, will they conform to such a strategy or continue to follow their own success and tactics that have gotten them to where they are? I think they’ll stick with the latter and trust that. However, it’s hard to beat the Spanish at their own game. Again, you can’t dominate possession when you don’t have the ball in the first place.
My prediction is Spain wins this by a single goal.
Conclusions and Last Thoughts
Regardless of the result, I think this will be a great game and one that everyone will enjoy, whether you’re watching soccer for the first time or followed the beautiful game your entire life. It’s hard to really root against any one team because they’ve both been deserving to hoist up the trophy. What’s more exciting is that fact that a team will win the trophy for the very first time. It won’t be Brazil or Argentina or Germany. It’s going to be a new team and one that’s fun to watch score goals and slick passing and creativity. It won’t be a shootout, but you’ll see the beautiful game in action in the biggest stage in the sporting world.
Everyone will be watching these two teams go at it and no one will be disappointed.