World Cup final • Sunday, 2:30 p.m. • Johannesburg • TV » ABC
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Will the match between two of the most flamboyant teams in the tournament live up to the hype? The potential is there with five-goal scorers David Villa and Wesley Sneijder lining up on opposite sides of the field with the Golden Boot in their sights. With how dangerous the Spanish are in possession, the Dutch are certain to focus on maintaining a defensive shape, but the mistake would be to sit back too much like the Germans. Instead, the Netherlands will take an aggressive approach and try to rattle Spain with crunching tackles in the midfield.
2. Can the Dutch contain the Spanish midfield? Spain’s key playmakers, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, have been in complete control in the center of the park with the backing of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets. The Netherlands counters with Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, who are supremely physical and will use any means to disrupt Spain’s flow, but they need to avoid the rash challenges that could tempt the referee into having an undue influence. The Dutch simply must force Spain to play wide instead of straight down the middle without putting their cleats through any ankles.
3. Can the rock-solid Spanish defense match up with Holland’s talented wingers? Only one goal has been scored on goalkeeper Iker Casillas since Spain was upset by Switzerland in the first match of the tournament. Neither Germany nor Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal could solve the Spanish defense. With Dirk Kuyt on one side and Arjen Robben on the other, the Dutch will spread Spain’s back line and try to create space for Sneijder and forward Robin van Persie. Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique need to keep their ranks organized and vigilant.
STATE OF THE TEAMS
Spain » The reigning European champions enter as the favorites, but they still haven’t figured out who to pair with David Villa up front. Pedro squandered clear chances against Germany, and Fernando Torres hasn’t been on form. Could Fernando Llorente be the answer?
Netherlands » Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg doesn’t have nearly the pedigree of Iker Casillas at the other end of the field, and it has shown throughout the tournament. He must come up with some big saves to give the Dutch a chance.
THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER PREDICTS
There are no losers with this final since it will crown a first-time World Cup champion no matter who wins. Despite dropping their opening match, the talent and quality of the Spaniards have never been in doubt. David Villa scores on either side of a sneaky strike by Dirk Kuyt for a thrilling triumph for La Furia Roja.
Spain 2, Netherlands 1