Friday, July 9, 2010

World Cup Tomorrow, Sunday, July 11: World Cup Finals Preview

Whew. After 62 games and umpty-bump words, we’ve reached the end of World Cup 2010. We’ll have one more post-mortem post on where US soccer (and US soccer fans) go from here, but for now, let’s get right into the matchup.

Spain v. Netherlands (2:30 PM ET)

It’s the Eighty Years’ War compressed down to ninety minutes, as the Dutch again try to throw off shackles of the reigning European power, Spain.

There’s no word on whether King Juan Carlos of Spain will attend to watch David Villa’s attempt to put down the Dutch rebellion, though long-deceased King Philip II (who once ruled both Spain and the Netherlands) will no doubt be looking down with great interest, assuming he can see around his enormous, ovoid, Hapsburgian skull and get a glimpse of the game.

History also looms over the match in another, uglier way, as we’re now faced with the specter of the Dutch winning a World Cup staged in their former colony of South Africa, which their Afrikaner descendants turned into one of the most avowedly racist societies on Earth. I know that the Dutch have a modern reputation as genial hash merchants, but their imprint in South Africa has left the country pretty badly bent to this day. A Dutch win in South Africa would be the equivalent of a Spain win in a World Cup hosted by the Inca.

On a less somber note, soccer history will also be served on Sunday, as one of these two teams will move off of the “Best Never to Win It All” list and join France and England as the only one-time winners of the Cup (and the only one-time winner whose lone triumph came away from home).

Holland twice lost finals to host teams in the ‘70s (Argentina and then-West Germany), and are clearly at the top of the lucky loser list. In fact, the concept of losing pretty has become so entwined with Dutch soccer that many writers seem to be rooting against this edition of the team, because it (a) is not pretty and (b) does not lose (with a 90-minute win, Holland would become only the second team in World Cup history to win every game in regulation).

Spain, by contrast, can’t boast the same history of close calls. Instead, prior to the pat few years Spain had a reputation of being the most talented team never to accomplish anything of note, primarily because they choked too early to even make a final. By way of analogy, Holland are the pre-‘04 Red Sox, whereas Spain were the mid-aughts Yankees.

As for the game itself, at this point, there’s not a lot more to say tactically (as you may have guessed from the rest of preview). Spain ended up heeding our advice and benching Fernando Torres in favor of Pedro, and we’d expect that lineup to remain unchanged for the final. The move essentially gives Spain 5 midfielders, which is appropriate, because Spain’s entire style of play is built around controlling the center of the field.

They’ll face a unique challenge in Holland’s defensive central midfield duo of Mark van Bommel (seen plying his trade at right) and Nigel de Jong, both of whom teeter on the line between scrappers and goons.

Our random prediction of the day is that at least one of the five combined central midfield players--van Bommel, de Jong, and Spain’s Xabi Alonso, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta--will end up leaving the game not of their own accord. For the Dutch players the risk is a red card; for the Spanish, a Theisman’ed tibia. Whichever team keeps all of its guys on the field will win.

Prediction: Spain 2-1 Netherlands (ET). That would be pretty high scoring for a final, but we think the scoring will be stretched out over 120 minutes instead of 90.

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