I've been doing previews of every World Cup game in the last few rounds. Here's the conclusion of the series, on today's final between Spain and the Netherlands, which will be televised today at 11:30 a.m. Pacific (2:30 p.m. Eastern) on CBC.
Top scorer: David Villa, five goals
Top scorer: Wesley Sneijder, five goals
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This final should be interesting. It features two teams that haven't been overly dominant during this tournament, but they're the only ones still standing. The Netherlands have been purely efficient, winning all six of their matches, but they've had some close calls. Perhaps the closest came against Uruguay in the semifinals, where the South Americans came within one on a late goal and then had several chances to tie the match. However, the Dutch also only beat Brazil and Slovakia by one. They've played well and deserve to be here, but any of a number of different bounces could have ended their tournament.
One man is largely responsible for the Oranje's appearance on this most spectacular of stages, and his name is midfield virtuoso Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder is having a fantastic year, having already led Inter Milan to the UEFA Champions League title, and he could cap it off with a solid performance in this match. Sneijder has scored five out of the 12 Oranje goals himself and has set up countless others. Beyond him, though, the Dutch have struggled to find consistent scoring from their supporting cast; Arjen Robben has two goals, and no one else has more than one. If cries of "Hup Holland" are to be heard, Sneijder will likely have to come through with a big game for the Dutch.
Spain have also put up a string of one-goal victories, but many of theirs have perhaps been more dominant. Most impressive was their semifinal victory over Germany, where they controlled most of the possession and put up 13 shots while holding Die Mannschaft to just five. Of course, they were aided and abetted by Germany's decision to play conservatively, but they still deserved to come away with that victory. David Villa has had an extraordinary tournament for the Spaniards, racking up five of their seven goals. If he keeps this up, he might just be the new king of Spain.
Spain's real secret to victory has been the dominance of their midfield and defence, though. Iker Casillas has been rock-solid in goal, and Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Joan Capdevilla and Sergio Ramos have done an excellent job in front of him. Their work has been greatly aided by the superlative play of the Spanish five-man midfield, including Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who have helped to control the ball for long stretches at a time. The Spanish have only allowed two goals in the entire tournament, which is incredibly impressive.
This match should be a bit of a clash of styles. The Netherlands haven't been as flamboyant as in previous tournaments, opting instead for a greater focus on efficiency and defending, but they still play a strong offensive game. I wouldn't imagine that they'd sit back and let the Spanish take the play to them. Spain's possession-based style has its admirers, including Brian Phillips of The Run Of Play, and there are good reasons to appreciate it. They move the ball around in midfield superbly well, and thus far, they've been able to capitalize on their limited offensive opportunitities. It's not one I particularly enjoy, though, so I'll be rooting for the Dutch. How this match plays out may depend on who scores first; if the Spanish get the first goal, they should be able to lock things down, but if the Dutch can score first, they could force Spain into a more open game. I think they might just be able to do it. Hopefully, this will be a great one to watch.
Prediction: The Netherlands 2, Spain 1