When the Netherlands has the ball
Possession, possession, possession.
The Dutch like to build their attack from the back, meaning the far back: goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg (1) often begins the buildup with passes to his defenders. Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst (5) scored the first goal against Uruguay in the semifinals, but he’s rarely involved in the offense. Instead, the idea is to get the ball to the midfield, where Wesley Sneijder (10) and cohorts probe defenses while allowing Arjen Robben (11), Robin van Persie (9) and Dirk Kuyt (7) to make darting runs outside and, often in the case of van Persie, to the inside. Sneijder usually is the man in control of the ball and distributing it to the forwards, though his five goals ties him for tournament best.
When Spain has the ball
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Possession, possession ... you get the idea.
No team in the world passes better than Spain. Its game is based on precision, and like the Dutch, the Spaniards often get keeper Iker Casillas (1) to initiate with passes to his defenders. But he’s also more likely to play a long goal kick toward midfielders Xavi (8), Xabi Alonso (14) and Andres Iniesta (6), or even to strikers David Villa (7) or Fernando Torres (9) if he starts. Torres has struggled to recover from knee surgery and barely played in the semifinal win over Germany.
Villa is Spain’s best finisher, and he also has scored five times in the tournament. His quick bursts get him into open areas, and he’s accurate with either foot.
Casillas is among the world’s best keepers and has been for years, earning him the nickname San Iker in Spain. He’s particularly masterful cutting down angles on shooters, and he made two huge saves late in the semifinal after Uruguay pulled within 3-2.
For Stekelenburg, it’s his first World Cup. He’s been a tad inconsistent and let in a shot by Diego Forlan against Uruguay that perhaps he should have stopped.
Bert van Marwijk’s biggest accomplishment might be meshing a variety of big names with various styles into a Clockwork Oranje. This is a more patient Dutch team than most, and it doesn’t panic and change its style of play when it falls behind.
Vicente del Bosque has been considered something of a caretaker for Spain; Luis Aragones put together the squad that he guided to the 2008 European Championship. Del Bosque made a few adjustments when he replaced Aragones, particularly in the midfield, where he opted for Sergio Busquets’ (16) more defensive style instead of Cesc Fabregas (10).
The Dutch have won zero World Cups. Ditto Spain. So the incentive is massive to erase previous failings, particularly for the Netherlands, which lost the 1974 and ’78 finals to West Germany and then Argentina. Spain has had an even more checkered history, wasting just as much talent with weak showings at major events.
The Associated Press
INSIDE | C7
CHAMPIONSHIP: Whatever happens in Johannesburg, one nation will win its first World Cup crown.
THIRD-PLACE GAME: Germany defeats Uruguay, 3-2, in an entertaining battle of semifinal losers.