JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Matchups for Sunday's World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City (kickoff is 2:30 p.m. EDT):
|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 from the back line to creative midfielders Wesley Sneijder (10), Mark van Bommel (6), Rafael van der Vaart (23) and Nigel de Jong (8), who was suspended for the semifinal.
They, in turn, probe defenses while allowing Arjen Robben (11), Robin van Persie (9) and Dirk Kuyt (7) to making 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.
But Sneijder certainly can finish, and his five goals tie him for the World Cup lead. He's also adept at free kicks, as is Robben. Watch for Robben to do everything he can to get the ball on his left foot in space, particularly at the edge of the penalty area. And watch the frenetic Kuyt, who pops up all over the attacking zone.
The deep Dutch offense will test Spain's outstanding defenders, forcing them to close down quickly as the Netherlands gets close to the 18-yard box. Outside halfbacks Joan Capdevila (11) and Sergio Ramos (15) will be very busy.
|When Spain has the ball|
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 is tied with Sneijder for top scorer in the tournament. His quick bursts get him into open areas, and he's accurate with either foot.
Villa also is a sparkplug, the most exciting performer on a squad filled with artistic players such as Xavi, Iniesta and Alonso.
Spain's only goal against Germany, despite dominating the match, came on a set piece, and Xavi is masterful on corner kicks and free kicks. Watch for the taller Spaniards such as defender Gerard Pique (3) and midfielder Sergio Busquets (16) in front of the net on corner kicks, although it was the shorter Carles Puyol (5) who powered in a header off Xavi's corner kick for the winner in the semifinal.
The Netherlands has been criticized for being slow on defense. If that's true, Van Bronckhorst, Gregory van der Wiel (2), John Heitinga (3) and Joris Mathijsen (4) could be under siege.
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 quarterfinal against Paraguay. As Spain's captain, he obviously has leadership skills, and he's among the most popular players on the team. This is his third World Cup.
For Stekelenburg, it's his first. He's been a tad inconsistent and let in a shot by Diego Forlan against Uruguay that perhaps he should have stopped with his arms. But Forlan regularly scores on lots of keepers.
Stekelenburg will be the tallest player on the field at 6-foot-4½, and he might need every inch to handle the sharp shots the Spaniards can send his way. He is new to this level of competition and generally has handled himself well. He also has not faced an attack like this.
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. The most impressive performance thus far came when the Netherlands rallied to beat Brazil in the quarterfinals. The Dutch stuck to their game plan, a testament to how prepared van Marwijk has them.
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 Busquets' more defensive style instead of Cesc Fabregras (10). Generally, he has stayed out of the way and let his group's talent and on-field leadership carry it. Showing faith in his players even after a weak start to the tournament in a 1-0 loss to Switzerland was his best move.
Now is the time for both teams, whose key performers are in their primes.
The Dutch have won zero World Cups. Spain has won the same number. So the incentive is massive to erase previous failings, particularly for the Netherlands, which lost the 1974 and '78 finals to West Germany and Argentina. Spain has had an even more checkered soccer history, wasting just as much talent with weak showings at major events.
The Netherlands likely will have more fan support at the final in Soccer City, which just happens to have orange seats for those who believe in omens.