World Cup Preview – Final Fight

Jules Rimet

So after a month of packed full of national team scandals, old powers returning to their glory days and Diego Maradona being Diego Maradona, we finally reach the zenith of the World Cup: The Final.

There’s also the 3rd place play-off, a game not many sides care about but often produces decent games, France 98 being the best example there.

Most people are licking their lips at the prospect of a new World Champion being crowned. The Netherlands for all their talent they’ve produced since the Total Football generation deserve it. But so do the greatest international side for approximately 10 years, maybe more. I wouldn’t mind either side winning it, mainly as finally one of them gets rid of the ‘underachiever’ tag.

I thought both semi-finals were brilliant in different ways, with the better sides coming out on top with the exertion of pressure paying off to defensive organisation.

Holland vs Uruguay was a pretty tepid first half, enhanced by the goal of the tournament from Giovanni Van Bronckhorst. He’ll bow out of the sport on the grandest stage in world football.  A fitting final match for a great left-back. His goal as rightly pointed out by Clive Tyldesley (who was flying solo on commentary as Jim Beglin was poisoned by him pre-match) was indeed a very different goal to the one the Dutch scored against Italy in Euro 2008. That’s correct Clive because all goals are different. Audacious drive is the best way to describe it.

Gio joins Bergkamp and Van Basten in the 'Dutch Wonder Goal Hall of Fame' Photo:Daily Mail

Gio rallied the Dutch troops ahead of Sunday’s showdown. He said:

The last game in my career and it’s a World Cup final. What can you say? It could not be more beautiful. I hope it will be the most beautiful game of my life. For everyone, it will be the game of their life. By quitting I can close the book on a whole part of my life. I will do everything I can to with the team and staff to bring the World Cup to the Netherlands. That would be a fantastic finish.”

Zidane probably said the same thing four years ago. But I hope for Gio’s sake he doesn’t follow in the same tradition.

Uruguay played a lot better than I thought they would minus Suarez. Their equaliser in the first half showed us that once again the Dutch defence is flawed, especially down the middle as Cavani dragged them out of position for Diego Forlan to fire in. Stekelenburg could have done better as well.

The changing point was Marwijk bringing on Rafael Van Der Vaart for the injured Demy De Zeeuw. Holland pushed forward and got their reward. The second goal was slightly controversial, but the offside was so marginal. You’d be a massive pedant to lambaste the referee for that. He and the linesmen got worse things wrong. The third goal was a superb team move as Holland finally attacked down the left.

Uruguay shouldn’t be too disheartened because they’ve been superb throughout. Diego Forlan’s finally being recognised as a superb player, but anyone outside English punditryland would know he’s been prolific for about 5 years now.

On to Germany Spain, which was in my opinion, the best game I’ve seen this World Cup. Why? Passing perfection from both sides, but Spain were unreal at times. Sergio Busquets had 97%, Xavi 94% and Alonso 91%. They just don’t relent at times. On the flip side, Germany defensively were superb to hold them at 0-0 for so long, with Metresacker, Friedrich and Khedira sticking to David Villa like they were his own bodyguards.

Pedro had a good game as well, although tainted by not passing to Torres who had a airfield’s length of space. I’d still play him over Torres against Holland. He gives them pace and other options, which should work as Villa will not be as hounded during the final. I don’t rate the Holland back two as much the German’s defence. If Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel tackle well, it could be a different story.

Germany can be very proud of their campaign, and I’d take a sneaky punt on them winning Euro 2012. They are bound to get stronger with more experience. The main reason they lost is because the link-up between Klose and Podolski was eradicated due to the tremendous Sergio Busquets intercepting like crazy. Spain’s defence was tested at times and they’ll probably have a tougher task against Sneijder and Robben.

Man of the Match Xavi congratulates Carles Puyol for his bullet 'British' header. Photos Getty Images/Clive Nelson

Xavi was man of the match for me. The man’s so consistent and that wasn’t his best game he’s had, but still tremendous. Opta Joe, the Twitter stat oracle that he is tweeted that Xavi touched the ball every 46 seconds which shows you how much Spain dominated and how central he is to his plans.

He said:

“We dedicate this victory to Spain. If we play on Sunday like we did today, we will have a great chance.We played as we wanted to. Now it is a final against Holland, a great team playing great football with great players in midfield and up front. We will have to impose our personality and football on them.”

So on to the prediction. I’m don’t really see the point of predicting 3rd place but I’ll go for Germany 2-0, if you really care.

The Netherlands vs Spain

Soccer City, Johannesburg, 19:30GMT

Probable Line-Ups:

Netherlands [4-2-3-1)  Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathjisen, Van Bronckhorst, Van Bommel, De Jong, Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Persie

Spain [4-2-3-1] Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila, Iniesta, Alonso, Busquets, Xavi, Pedro, Villa

  • Strangely enough the two great nations have never faced each other in a competitive match. Both sides have steadily improved as the tournament progressed and you can’t argue that these two are the best currently in the world.
  • I see the game being very similar to the Holland Brazil game. Spain will relentlessly attack in the opening exchanges. If they stick to the same side, and they should do, then the midfield need to keep the ball as we know they can. The Barca midfield engine is key to this. Holland’s best shot is to counter when possible and use Robben down the right. Capdevila is the weak leak, although that’s extremely harsh considering the talent around him.
  • Spain feel like a Barcelona without Messi, loads of build-up without cutting edge. Villa will need to stay central without Torres. If Holland outmark Villa anywhere near as good as Germany, they have a decent chance.
  • Wesley Sneijder is my pick for the Ballon D’or. He’s Holland’s focal point, an extraordinary playmaker. If he’s allowed time, he can punish and also feed Van Persie. Pique’s looked shaky at times and this could also be exploited
  • Overall, I think the might of the Spain midfield will come out on top, and Spain’s pressure will eventually make way for their maiden World Cup.

Prediction: 1:2 (yeah Paul you octoprick, I’m ballsy, I predict the scores. Hope you enjoy being calamari soon)

There we have it. The World Cup previews have reached a climax. It’s been a great tournament and I’ve certainly enjoyed writing about it. So many moments to cherish, especially France floundering.

I’ll be back on Monday for a World Cup Awards Ceremony, which will rival the Oscars in terms of Kate Winslet moments. Raymond Domenech, you might not want to attend. Actually, Frenchmen beware.

And another happy moment for me. Miroslav Klose didn’t beat Ronaldo’s record. I like Klose but Ronaldo was phenomenal in the 90’s. So I leave you with his 15 landmark goals.

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World Cup Preview – Clockwork Oranje

When every World Cup comes around, everyone places an outside bet on Holland. Based on their qualifying campaign, it seems a very safe bet. Their football is certainly entertaining and at times, dazzling for the spectator. But when it comes to tournaments, the Dutch will often begin with performances full of flair and vigour, but then collapse in the late stages. So can this crop of flying Dutchmen eradicate the memories of old?

For so many years, Holland have been the nearly men of international football. In the 1970’s, they were the creators of Total Football and had the maestro, Johan Cruyff as the master of that system. The 1980’s saw other great players emerge. Rijkaard, Gullit, Van Basten. All superb footballers who had an hand in Holland’s only tournament victory, Euro 1988.

The 1990’s saw Dutch club football reach its heights, with the Ajax youth system reaping dividends. Bergkamp, the De Boer brothers, Kluivert, Davids, Overmars. I could go on. But they didn’t win anything internationally either.

The point is Holland produces some of the best footballers of their respective generations. But they’ve never won the big one. The question is why?

This decade has seen the Dutch decline set in, after failing to make the World Cup in 2002 (under arguably their most successful manager Louis Van Gaal). They were arguably the most fluid side at Euro 2008, dismantling World champs and runner-ups Italy and France. These goals show the pure tactical class of the Dutch passing system and also their ability to counter attack like no other side.

But once again, Holland fell short after they were undone by their former manager and national team specialist, Guus Hiddink.

This time round, Holland possess arguably the most dynamic frontline out the European teams. Wesley Sneijder has had a sensational season at newly crowned Champions League winners Inter Milan, and was in my opinion, the best footballer in Europe this year. He was the creative engine behind that side and similarly here, he will look to link up with Robin Van Persie. Van Persie, by his own admission has had a injury-plagued season, but there’s no denying what he brings to the side: a accomplished striker. If he reaches peak fitness in time, then he can be deadly.

The wings in the adapted 4-2-3-1 formation will often blaze forward in an aid to help Van Persie. Arjen Robben, like Wesley Sneijder, has excelled after leaving Real Madrid, scoring some outrageous solo efforts. His form could well be key to Dutch success in South Africa but if reports are to be believed, he’s suffered a hamstring tear. On the right should be Rafael Van Der Vaart, who chose to stay in Madrid. He offers may options as well, and could also cut inside with devastating effect.

Oranje is the colour for these passionate fans

Bert van Marwijk has balanced his side well. The glamour up front is well supported by bruising determinism and experience behind. Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong will likely be the holding midfielders, each bringing different aspects. De Jong has proved at Manchester City that he’s a superb no-nonsense tackler, which City really needed. Van Bommel is an enforcer but also a great passer as well. Tackling isn’t exactly his strongest attribute and he has  a short fuse.

The subs bench also looks good as well. Ibrahim Affelay has been a revelation for PSV, and will be a useful impact sub when called upon. Dirk Kuyt’s work ethic is often underrated and he would also easily slot into Van Marwijk’s system.

Holland’s defence however worries me. Some players are way past their prime, particularly captain Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, a superb servant over the years, but I doubt he could cope with particularly fast wingers at left back. Andre Ooijer also falls into this category, and both him and Gio are 35. They both provide vital experience and composure to the defence, but speed is lacking at the back. This could see Johnny Heitinga partnering Joris Mathijsen in the heart of defence.

If the Netherlands had a world-class centre back, like so many other nations, then they would be classed as one of the favourites. Brazil have Lucio, England have John Terry (on his day can superb, just not this season) and Spain have Gerard Pique. All 3 are great centre-backs, although I’ll gladly except one has been haphazard at times this year.

Holland need a defensive rock similar to Jaap Stam, a player who would cast fear into opponents. They don’t have that.

The goalkeeper situation is worse however. Since Edwin Van Der Sar retired from international football, Holland have struggled to find a replacement. Maaten Stekelenburg lacks the leadership qualities of predecessor and he often looks shaky at times. This could prove to be disasterous, but he’s the best option viable to Van Marwijk.

If Holland’s defence perform as well as they did in a easy qualifying group, then there won’t be a problem. Unfortunately, for them as they well know, this stage is much tougher. Injuries will be a factor as well, the side is ridden with players prone to injuries.

So, is the future bright for Holland? Certainly, but they’ll need a lot more luck on and off the field, if they are to make the final in Johannesburg on July 11th.