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World Cup final poised to be a thriller

11/07/2010 07:48:18 AM Comments (0)

Spain and the Netherlands have all the talent necessary to provide one of the most thrilling World Cup finals in the tournament's 80-year history.

That doesn't necessarily mean it will be one of the highest scoring.

Spain's organisation and control won it the European Championship two years ago and could make it only the third side to add the World Cup to that title.

The players are so confident in their ability to deny opponents possession and chances they do not need to create chance after chance. That leads to some glorious passing performances but means what is arguably world football's most attractive team has scored just seven goals to reach the final.

The Netherlands has scored five more but places equal importance on the sort of possession play that suffocates opponents and requires patient scheming rather than pace and excitement.

"Goal scoring is less important," Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said. "We have good organisation and a few creative players that can make the difference.

"But Spain has that, too."

That could make for an evenly matched game decided by a moment of individual brilliance by the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder or Spain's David Villa, who share the lead in the tournament scoring charts with five goals each.

"I think we have all the ingredients possible for a great final," Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez said. "It's true that whichever team has better ball possession will have halfway won.

"We'll intend to impose our style of play from the opening minute. But the Netherlands will, too. Possession will clearly be the key to the game."

Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets are likely to again provide the midfield shield that protects Spain's defense and allow the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Villa to dismantle the opposition.

Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, who should return from suspension after being replaced by Demy de Zeeuw for the 3-2 semifinal win over Uruguay, are more physical and destructive but offer a similar platform from which the Dutch build.

"We have our ideas how they will play," Van Marwijk said. "The way in which they play will be same for both teams."

Spain has steadily improved with each game in South Africa until the point where it controlled this week's 1-0 semifinal win over Germany with a measured performance that denied a previously impressive team any space or opportunity to counterattack.

Spain lost the only game in which it trailed - 1-0 to Switzerland in its opening match - so it would be intriguing to see the Netherlands score first for the sixth time in seven tournament appearances.

Having ranked his team's dismantling of Germany as one of Spain's best-ever performances, coach Vicente del Bosque is expecting a more equal contest against a Dutch side boasting the attacking powers of Arjen Robben, Sneijder and Robin van Persie.

"They're very similar to us, players of great technical ability in midfield," Del Bosque said. "Players of great quality and very fast that don't improvise as much as we do but play a more dangerous direct game. A very dangerous team."

Del Bosque is not expected to make many changes to his starting lineup, which contains seven players from Spanish champion Barcelona.

That means backup defender Carlos Marchena is unlikely to start despite coming on in the last three matches and holding the record of 55 consecutive international appearances without losing.

But the Netherlands can go top of FIFA's world rankings for the first time if it wins the title without going to a penalty shootout.

Sneijder could become the first European player to win the World Cup in the same season as the Champions League and a domestic league and cup double. He clinched the European title, Serie A and Italian Cup with Inter Milan.

"Sneijder is such a great player and he showed it this season with the treble at Inter Milan," said Busquets, who will likely be detailed to keep tabs on Sneijder. "To stop him, we have to try and be one unit so that he doesn't even have a moment to think."

The Netherlands suffers in comparison with its 1970s counterparts, who lost the 1974 and '78 finals, the 1988 European champions of Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, and even the 1998 World Cup semi-final team that included Dennis Bergkamp and the De Boer twins.

"I'd rather play an extremely ugly game and win," Robben said, "instead of a beautiful one and lose."

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