Two long runs of success on the line in World Cup final
JOHANNESBURG — The first World Cup in Africa appropriately presents something new: Spain or the Netherlands as a first-time champion.
The Spaniards and Dutch will meet Sunday at Soccer City after winning tight semifinals. It’s the first final for the Spaniards, who broke a 44-year major championships drought when they won the European crown two years ago.
For the Dutch, its a third trip to the title game, having lost in 1974 and ’78. The nations never have met in a World Cup and have split nine games 4-4 with one draw.
Spain is a 1-to-2 favorite to win the final, according to BetUS. But no team has ever lost the first game of the tournament and went on to win the title. La Furia Roja lost its opening match to Switzerland.
Both teams rolled into this tournament with long streaks of success, and the Netherlands’ string remains intact: 25 matches without a loss and 10 straight victories, including all six in South Africa, the only team to manage that.
“We’ve beaten Brazil, we know we can play with any of them,” captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst said. “To be mentally strong is now most important.”
Mentally fragile has been the World Cup description for both nations. The Dutch in particular regularly have wasted their deep pool of talent by going out early in big events since the loss to Argentina in the 1978 final. They won the ’88 Euro title and fell to Brazil in the Cup semifinals 10 years later.
Other than that, it’s pretty Giovanni van Bronckhorst and his Dutch teammates have won 10 straight matches, including six in the World Cup. much been rotten Oranje.
Spain didn’t even do as well as the Netherlands, consistently flopping in the biggest moments. But the so-called golden generation for La Roja has changed the team’s direction. David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Carles Puyol controlled the match against Germany.
The Dutch enjoy the offensive side. Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and the rest of the Oranje have 12 goals.
Spain, probably the best passing team in the world, will attempt to control the ball, getting it to the feet of Iniesta or Xavi, then try to spring Villa or someone else down the wings or in the middle.
Don’t look for counterattacks. The Dutch will build their probing offense from goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg on out, unafraid to let their inexperienced keeper begin the passing sequences they favor.