World Cup 2010 - Netherlands-Spain: Five things to watch

Yahoo - Sun, 11 Jul 09:19:00 2010

So after 30 days, 30 sad goodbyes, 63 matches and a million storylines, this is it – the game that will bring four years of joy and an eternal place in history.

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The World Cup final.

More than one billion people will be tuning in around the globe to see football's ultimate prize battled for on the field of Soccer City. And it will all be decided by a small group of men from the Netherlands and Spain who know that their greatest moment and a permanent spot in folklore await them.

There is no more cherished feat in football than this. The performances of one night can shape the legacy of the combatants and the mood of two nations. Here is what you should be watching out for:

1. Historical hurt

Few nations have experienced suffering like these two. Decade upon decade of disappointment and frustration have marred their history. Spain did ease some of that by winning the European Championships two years ago, but this is the prize it really craves.

The Netherlands has been agonisingly close before, taking the lead in the 1974 final before losing to West Germany and being just inches away from triumph late in the 1978 final against Argentina.

Look out for: Who’s buckling under pressure. Both teams know exactly how much this means to the folks back home and how long the wait has been. Years of underachievement can be wiped away over the course of 90 minutes, yet success will go to the side that best handles the weight of expectation.

2. Beauty and the Beast

The midfield battle between the tournament’s best player and its most rugged will go a long way toward determining the eventual champion. Spain’s Xavi, arguably the finest player on the planet right now, will look to work his creative magic once more and make his side tick. Dutch enforcer Mark van Bommel will be charged with shutting him down and could use some pretty physical tactics to do so.

Xavi doesn’t always have the eye-catching tricks of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but he is exceptionally talented and may have the sharpest football mind of all. Van Bommel will find life tough against him, and his timing and positioning on tackles must be perfect.

Look out for: Rough stuff. Van Bommel won’t need anyone to tell him just how dangerous Xavi is and how intrinsic the little man will be to Spain’s chances. Expect some ferocious early challenges aimed at slowing down the Barcelona superstar.

3. The money men

David Villa and Wesley Sneijder are two of the most valuable players in world football, with Villa having cost Barcelona $50 million this summer and Sneijder being the target of a $42 million bid by Manchester United. They have been "money” at this World Cup, too, each man helping carry his team through to Sunday’s showdown.

Villa’s contribution to Spain has been about far more than his five goals – his electric presence terrifies opposing defenders – while Sneijder stood tall when it counted most, spearheading the Dutch comeback from a goal down to beat Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Look out for: Their offensive arsenal. Villa is direct and determined, preferring to charge into the heart of a defence and cause panic. Sniejder attacks from a little wider and a little deeper position and likes to send sneaking crosses behind the defence. If either man gets a sight of goal, though, get ready for them to take deadly aim.

4. The workhorses

Workhorse is an unflattering phrase for Andres Iniesta, who’s a great talent for Spain and one of the 10 players shortlisted for the tournament's best player award. The Spanish midfielder is gifted, too, but it has been his industry and drive that has been most valuable to his side over the past few weeks.

For the Dutch, much of that grunt work is left to Dirk Kuyt, who covers enormous tracts of turf and offers himself as an unselfish servant to the likes of Sneijder and Arjen Robben. Kuyt’s efforts are not spectacular but are mightily important to his team.

Look out for: The fuel gauges. Not many players have expended as much energy as these two during the World Cup and it must be questioned how much is left in the tank. Neither man likes to take a backward step and will be desperate for one more huge performance. Their minds are strong, but how are the bodies?

5. The defensive titans

Each side has its Hercules at the back with Spanish defender Carles Puyol and Dutch centre-back Joris Mathijsen charged with keeping things tight and organised. Puyol has been as strong and courageous as ever and even got the goal that put Spain into the final.

Mathijsen sat out the quarter-final against Brazil due to injury, but he bounced back in the last four and helped keep Diego Forlan under wraps. He doesn’t get forward much but brings stability and calm to the Netherlands defensive structure.

Look out for: Tough tasks. Mathijsen is still experiencing discomfort from a knee injury and the quick turns of Villa will be a challenge. Puyol also will have a battle on his hands trying to outmuscle Dutch striker Robin van Persie, who’s a much taller man.

Martin Rogers / Yahoo

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