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Spain 1 Netherlands 0

Spain: Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets, Alonso (Fabregas 87); Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro (Navas 60); Villa (Torres 105)

Netherlands: Stekelenberg; Van Der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst (Braafheid 105); De Jong (Van der Vaart 99), Van Bommel; Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt (Elia 70); Van Persie

So, the curtain has fallen on the 2010 World Cup and Spain, almost certainly the best footballing side in the competition, have claimed the first world title in their long and rich history. They did it with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in Johannesburg, overcoming some robust, occasionally brutal, Dutch defending which threatened to disrupt the smooth pass-and-move game that Del Bosque’s side played throughout the tournament.

Combined with their European Championships title in 2008, tonight’s historic victory must surely add further weight to the argument that this group of players should be considered as one of the greatest international teams of all time. This was a triumph four years in the making.

Teams as anticipated

Both teams were set up in nominal 4-2-3-1 systems, the Netherlands in their “broken” formation with the clear distinction between those players designated to attack and those to defend, whilst the Spanish again adopted their fluid but narrow shape, relying on the overlapping runs of Sergio Ramos and, to a lesser extent, Joan Capdevila for width from full-back.

Vicente Del Bosque, as was widely anticipated, again omitted Fernando Torres from an otherwise very predictable starting eleven, preferring Pedro on the left flank where he switched wings with Andres Iniesta regularly as we saw in the semi-final against Germany. Bert van Marwijk was also able to select his team from a full complement of players, choosing what has come to be seen as his best side with Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong returning from suspension to slot back into the line-up.

A stylistic clash

Much of the talk before the match had centred around how this final was a clash of two very different styles, a pragmatic Dutch side facing the “Tiki-Taka” of the Spanish with the Dutch “Total Football” legacy of the 1970s being echoed in the approach of Del Bosque’s players. Indeed, this stylistic clash did come to pass, but not necessarily in the form it had been anticipated.

From the very start the Netherlands looked to get to Spain using physicality and aggression that spilled over into recklessness all too often. Of course, Van Marwijk cannot be blamed for trying to disrupt the Spanish passing game, something that his side did very effectively for sustained periods of the game, but their methods were at times very dubious. Cynical challenges from the likes of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong seemingly targeted the creative players in the Spain midfield and disjointed what little flow the game had managed to gather in the early stages.

Change of personnel, change of tempo

With the game a largely scrappy affair, it was to the coaches’ credit that they tried to open the game up by introducing extra width and pace to their attacks. Del Bosque was the first to make a change, bringing Jesus Navas on for Pedro on the hour before van Marwijk followed suit by replacing Dirk Kuyt with Hamburg winger Eljero Elia in an attempt to get in behind Sergio Ramos and force the Real Madrid defender into a much deeper position to negate his significant attacking threat.

The changes served to increase the general tempo of the match and saw chances created with a greater regularity as the Dutch threatened to snatch victory, going remarkably close to taking the lead on a number of occasions as they broke with greater efficiency as the game progressed.

However, Spain had unquestionably been the better side throughout from a technical perspective and pressed even harder for the win during extra-time. When John Heitinga was dismissed with just ten minutes to go the game had a feeling of inevitability about it, Andres Iniesta’s excellent strike four minutes from time earning his team a well-deserved victory in the face of what had been a hostile performance from the Dutch.

World football’s new superpower

Make no mistake about it, this was far from being one of the classic World Cup finals, but it is significant in that it gives resounding vindication to the Spanish style of play and now places this team amongst the greatest the game has seen. It may not be fashionable to classify contemporary teams alongside past greats but, when you consider their performances over the last three or four years, this group of players deserve all the plaudits they will undoubtedly receive from around the globe.

World football has a new superpower, a confident, technically brilliant Spanish team that will look to retain its European crown in two years time and could still be together when the World Cup heads to Brazil in 2014. There could be much more to come from La Furia Roja yet.

Not only will the 2010 World Cup be contested between two countries that have never before won football’s most prestigious title, it is also a match involving two footballing cultures that have historically heavily influenced the sport and impressed with quick passing, intelligent movement and a willful adherence to an aesthetic, possession-based form of the game.

From the ‘Total Football’ of the 1970s through to the intricate ‘Tiki-Taka’ of the current Spanish side, Sunday’s showdown in Soccer City truly is a clash of two of football’s most tactically important nations.

Oranje – The class of 2010

Probable Dutch XI

Away from the history and back into the present, Bert van Marwijk’s relatively pragmatic Dutch team cannot be defined in terms of their illustrious predecessors but have impressed in South Africa with sound defensive organisation and a cohesive team ethic.

This ethos around which the current Oranje are built integrates the individual excellence of players such as Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder into an effective team framework, resulting in a well-balanced team comprising of players whose abilities complement each other to good effect.

Having been set up in a 4-2-3-1 by van Marwijk throughout the tournament, the Dutch system is, as Jonathan Wilson has pointed out, a “broken” one in the sense that there is a clear divide between those players designated to attack and those to defend.

In the Dutch team there is a clear 6/4 division amongst the outfield players, a system that, although perhaps not conducive to the most flowing football, is relatively simple to implement and gives players clear and compartmentalised roles to perform without having to spend too much time ingraining them on the training ground in the fast-moving environment of tournament football.

The Netherlands’ coaching staff should have a full complement of players to choose from ahead of tomorrow’s showpiece, with Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel back from the suspensions that kept them out of the semi-final.

The only doubt is over the fitness of Demy de Zeeuw who reportedly damaged his teeth after being accidentally kicked in the face against Uruguay, although the Ajax midfielder is unlikely to start in any case.

Del Bosque, Spain and ‘Tiki-Taka’

To move on to the Spanish, Vicente Del Bosque’s side also deployed a 4-2-3-1 for the majority of their games, with Fernando Torres as the lone striker and David Villa on the left flank up until the semi-final when Torres was dropped and replaced by Barcelona’s Pedro, Villa being shifted to the centre-forward role.

Football Fans Know Better

Probable Spain XI

In the advanced areas of the pitch this 4-2-3-1 essentially becomes a 4-2-1-3, the wide players advancing beyond Xavi – the team’s creative hub – to quickly construct a more numerous and potent attacking unit.

As Spain have shown on countless occasions over the last four years, ‘Tiki-Taka’ is not rigidly bound by nominal formations, instead the forward players drift into the most threatening areas, positioning themselves where they can pick the opposition apart with the least resistance.

They may not score huge amounts of goals, but Del Bosque’s team wear their opponents down through sheer weight of possession, defending as much by keeping the ball as through more “traditional” methods.

This dominance of the ball is something which strongly echoes the practice and philosophy of Dutch “Total Football” (as well as Pep Guardiola’s current Barcelona side), an outclassing of opponents through the sheer technical superiority of a team that only comes along once a generation and something which gives tomorrow’s final an added level of intrigue.

Del Bosque has few injury problems to deal with ahead of tomorrow’s final – Cesc Fabregas seemingly having overcome the leg injury that forced him out of the tie with Germany – but must decide whether to continue to play Pedro ahead of Torres or draft the Liverpool striker back into the starting eleven, something which could well prove to be a pivotal decision.

A chance to make history

Whichever combinations of personnel are selected by van Marwijk and Del Bosque tomorrow night, the big game in Soccer City looks set to be an engaging encounter.

Two teams that have consistently impressed and yet serially underachieved in World Cups over the years, one of Spain or the Netherlands will finally overcome their misfortune at this level to permanently write their names into footballing history. This will be a battle of two different interpretations of 4-2-3-1, the system that has defined this World Cup, as well as a direct confrontation between the new Dutch pragmatism and the Spanish possession game, with a victory for the latter having the potential to put their style of play on the same much-vaunted pedestal as Total Football.

Del Bosque’s team rightly go into the game as favourites but, as Jose Mourinho showed with Inter last season, organisation and discipline is more than capable of overcoming systems reliant of territory and possession. This promises to be a fascinating final.

Germany 0 Spain 1

Germany: Neuer; Lahm, Mertesacker, Friedrich, Boateng (Jansen 52); Schweinsteiger, Khedira (Gomez 80); Trochowski (Kroos 62), Ozil, Podolski; Klose

Spain: Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets, Alonso (Marchena 90); Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro (Silva 85); Villa (Torres 81)

A beautiful, mesmerising game in Durban this evening was won by Spain who now progress to their first ever World Cup final thanks to Carlos Puyol’s second-half header. This was a match which showcased some of the finest defending and possession football the 2010 World Cup has seen, Vicente Del Bosque’s team controlling the game and yet having to play to their full capacity to break down Joachim Low’s resolute German side. It was a truly enthralling spectacle.

Football Fans Know Better

The line-ups

There were, as was widely expected, changes on both sides with Piotr Trochowski coming in for the suspended Thomas Muller and Fernando Torres being dropped to be replaced by Pedro.

Trochowski, despite not being the most dynamic player going forward, was deployed on the right side of Germany’s 4-2-3-1 and provided good defensive cover for Philipp Lahm, whilst Pedro took up a wide position for Spain in their own interpretation of 4-2-3-1, switching flanks with Andres Iniesta at regular intervals.

Many of Spain’s dangerous early forays into German territory came as a result of Iniesta’s work on the right hand side where he was matched up against the shaky Jerome Boateng who struggled with the movement and skill on the ball of the Barcelona midfielder.

Indeed, when the Manchester City defender was moved across to right-back Iniesta followed him and continued to cause him problems, eventually leading to his replacement by Marcell Jansen just minutes into the second half.

Although Spain had occasional success on the flanks, their best work Рboth with and without the ball Рwas done, as it so often is, in the centre of the field. Xavi and Sergio Busquets were particularly impressive, achieving pass completion rates of 86% and 92% respectively and keeping the ball away from the opposition for as long as possible. Pedro also had an excellent game, often cutting inside in an attempt to provide passes for David Villa and demonstrating impressive vision and awareness in doing so.

As Sid Lowe has said in the past, “tiki-taka” – as it has come to be known – is as much a defensive tactic as it is an attacking one. Keep the ball and the opposition can’t score, it’s as simple as that.

When Spain didn’t have the ball (49% of the time tonight, a much larger portion of the game than usual) they were superbly efficient at pressing high up the field and squeezing the spaces into which the Germans looked to get the ball. Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Iniesta all worked extremely hard to reduce the amount of time the German midfield had on the ball, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and, perhaps most notably of all, Mesut Ozil, all being throughly negated going forward.

Where Ozil had enjoyed the time and space to play passes into the feet of his forwards in his country’s run to the semi-finals, he tonight found himself starved of the ball for much of the game and pressured off it when he did eventually have possession.

Low’s team were better in the defensive phase, Schweinsteiger and Khedira keeping Villa on the periphery for long periods by shutting off the supply, with Trochowski and Lukas Podolski doing well to keep Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila more subdued than they had been previously in the tournament. However, despite doing a good job without the ball, Germany found themselves so focused on defence that they were strung out and incoherent going forward, Miroslav Klose often isolated and outnumbered in attack.

The winning goal may have come via a thumping Carlos Puyol header from a basic set-piece, but this was an intricate and delicate game between two well-balanced teams. Spain deserved their win and will go into the final against Holland as favourites, but Germany should be applauded for their excellent showing at this tournament, outdoing the low expectations many had of the team. Low’s side can surely look forward to bigger and better things in the years to come with what is a relatively young and supremely talented group of players.

What is for sure is that, come Sunday night, we will have new world champions, with neither Holland or Spain having won the title before in their rich footballing histories. It promises to be a fascinating match-up in Soccer City.


Will David Silva start against Germany?

Marca, although not always the most reliable of sources, is today reporting that Vicente Del Bosque is considering dropping Fernando Torres ahead of Spain’s World Cup semi-final clash with Germany and replacing the Liverpool forward with David Silva. With Joachim Low’s side having dominated the midfield battle against both England and Argentina, La Furia Roja are reportedly seeing a flooded midfield as the best way to negate the intelligent play of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil.

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Possible Spain XI

Although it’s best to take Marca’s claims with a pinch of salt, Silva’s inclusion would make good sense from a tactical point of view. With Torres having struggled to produce anything like his best form in South Africa, David Villa looks set to become the lone striker with Silva, a player that is both a threat going forward and willing to track back in the wide areas, nominally deployed on the left side.

With Germany using wingers that are particularly adept on the counter-attack and enjoy regularly cutting inside, the new Manchester City signing has the pace and work rate that could see him get in behind Germany when in possession and drop deep to cover his full-back in the defensive phase. He might just be Del Bosque’s secret weapon on Wednesday.

Of course, there are other potential options open to the Spanish coach. Cesc Fabregas impressed after coming on against Paraguay and could be deployed in an advanced midfield role supporting Villa with Torres dropped to the bench in what would likely resemble more of a 4-4-1-1 than Spain’s usual 4-2-3-1.

The exciting Jesus Navas is also available to Del Bosque and the former Real Madrid coach could be tempted to use the Sevilla man’s explosive pace on the right side to test the inexperienced Jerome Boateng, with Iniesta shifting to the left and Villa again taking up the lone striker role.

Indeed, Spain may even go for a straight swap up front, with Fernando Llorente looking sharp when brought on against Portugal and potentially in line to lead the attack at Torres’ expense should the coaching staff deem such a change necessary.

Whatever eleven Del Bosque does eventually select, it has become clear during the knock-out stages that the key to beating Germany is to dominate the midfield battle and stifle their creativity from deep.

Spain are arguably better equipped to do this than any of the other teams Low’s side have beaten en route to the last four, something that should make for a fascinating game when the two country’s clash in Durban on Wednesday night.

Following Spain’s 1-0 defeat to an extremely defensively-oriented Switzerland side in their opening group game, questions were raised as to the ability of Vicente Del Bosque’s team to effectively break down opposition that put all eleven men behind the ball and are happy to sit deep without possession.

That defeat in Durban caused a mini crisis of confidence in the style of play that has come to be known as “tiki-taka”, a real fear that teams bent on stifling the Spanish through adopting an almost wholly negative approach would destroy the rhythm of La Furia Roja to the point of their style having to be re-assessed. Tonight’s game, however, seems to have gone some way to easing those worries.

This Iberian derby was billed as a clash between two of the tournament’s most expressive sides, the quick pass-and-move of Spain against the attacking flair of Portugal, but that was hardly how the game panned out. Carlos Queiroz’s team were clearly set up to defend deep and spoil, Cristiano Ronaldo increasingly isolated as the only man up-field as the match progressed.

Faced with what was, particularly during the second half, a bank of four and another bank of five from the Portuguese, Spain didn’t panic with the ball, keeping their patience and demonstrating a great assurance and positivity. Enjoying over 60% possession throughout the game, Del Bosque’s players refused to be shaken out of their stride and were more willing to spread the ball wide and utilise David Villa and Andres Iniesta than they had been against Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team.

A 1-0 scoreline may not suggest an impressive Spanish performance, but this victory rarely looked in doubt and will ease many of the concerns that had been raised by the media following a slightly unconvincing passage through the group stage. Spain can take great confidence from this game as they progress to face Paraguay in the quarter-finals, the reputation of “tiki-taka” restored after a fleeting moment of doubt in the public consciousness.