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Defining moment for Spain's golden generation

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Jonathan Stevenson | 13:40 UK time, Friday, 9 July 2010

World Cup 2010: Johannesburg

"The day Spain begin winning, they won't stop."

How true Zinedine Zidane's words are beginning to sound. Two years after the Spanish ended 44 years of hurt by captivating a continent to win Euro 2008, the real 'Golden Generation' stands on the brink of World Cup immortality as they prepare to face the Netherlands in Sunday's final in Johannesburg.

Zidane, who represented Spanish giants Real Madrid with such distinction between 2001 and 2006, was not merely speculating when he made his bold statement a few years back. The French master was trying to explain that Spain, despite possessing a superbly talented crop of players, were perhaps being held back by a lack of confidence caused by years of failure.

As captain Iker Casillas held aloft the Henri Delauney Trophy in Vienna in 2008, the denouement of a European Championship that Spain had stylishly swaggered through from start to finish, the self-doubt that for so long had nagged away at the soul of Spanish football disappeared and in its place a team of winners was born.

Former Spain captain Fernando Hierro, now a Spanish Football Federation director, believes that moment was the turning point. "What has changed is the mentality," he enthused. "After 44 years, Spain are European champions. This is showing now in the World Cup. The team now has momentum, but what the win in 2008 has done is give the team more confidence. They have matured as well."

Spain's 2010 World Cup campaign, which started with a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of unfancied Switzerland and has seen them win all three knockout stage games 1-0 thanks to second-half goals, is proof if any were needed that Vicente del Bosque's team has the mental fortitude required to go with their star quality.

After all, few would claim that the European champions have been at their best since they landed in South Africa. With their usually fluid style slightly off kilter, they have shown a steely resolve and huge amount of patience to get the job done.

Rather than passing pretty patterns around their opponents as they did two years ago in Austria and Switzerland, Spain's now famous ability to keep the ball has worn down Portugal, Paraguay and Germany, with their winning goals coming in the 63rd, 82nd and 73rd minutes respectively

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Germany, who had demolished England and Argentina in previous knockout rounds, could not get the ball off Spain for long enough to hurt them, as vanquished coach Joachim Loew conceded. "They are the masters of the game," he commented. "You can see it in every pass. They can hardly be beaten. They are extremely calm and convincing. Spain were just better than we were and they deserved to win."

Winning is something this group of players has grown accustomed to. With a remarkable 50 victories from 54 games and silverware from a major tournament already in their locker, Spain can justifiably lay claim to being the best team in the world in recent years.

What they have proved they can do over the past four weeks in South Africa is win when they are not at their best, something former Spain midfielder Gaizka Mendieta - who was in the 2002 side that crashed out at the quarter-final stage on penalties to co-hosts South Korea - has stessed should not be overlooked.

"They have had a lot of pressure throughout the tournament, especially after losing the opening game," reflcted Mendieta. "They have had to win every match since and, though they didn't start off at their best, they have got better with every game.

"I honestly think they can play their best football in the final against the Dutch. They have still managed to play some beautiful football under a lot of pressure, so we have to believe they can do it on Sunday."

Spain have attracted criticism for not going to a 'Plan B' when their 'tiki-taka' passing game does not work, but much of the team - often labelled 'Generation Barca' - have been brought up to believe that there is no alternative.

If Xavi once called himself a "child of the (Barca) system", in Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and especially Andres Iniesta, he has no shortage of brothers in arms when playing for the national team.

Xavi and Iniesta have enjoyed their fair share of praise in recent years but they have also often found themselves on the flip side of the coin.

When Barcelona drew two blanks in their Champions League semi-final against Manchester United in 2008 and then bowed out against 10-man Inter Milan despite having 76% possession in April, the desire to always try to score the 'perfect goal' was bemoaned.

But for club and country, the mandate remains the same. Before their European final against Barcelona in May 2009, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson warned that "Xavi and Iniesta get you on that carousel and leave you dizzy".

After the Barca boys helped to grind down Germany on Wednesday, Loew was singing from the same hymn sheet. "They circulate the ball well and you just can't keep up with them," he added. "We couldn't play the way we like to."

Spanish football expert Guillem Balague has said that the substitutes available to Del Bosque are as crucial as the starting XI. "When you look at the bench, everyone apart from the reserve keepers and Raul Albiol can come on and change a game," Balague told me. "On Sunday, their most important players could be 12, 13, 14. When the opposition has spent 70 minutes chasing the ball, that's when fresh legs can be decisive."

If the Netherlands fall at the World Cup final hurdle for the third time on Sunday, they will have their most famous son to blame for defeat. It is Johan Cruyff who created the blueprint for 'Generation Barca', with his spell as coach at the Catalan club between1988 and 1996 laying the foundations that has enabled the likes of Xavi and Iniesta to blossom.

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Cruyff is better placed than anyone to predict the outcome of Sunday's showpiece. "I know the whole of Holland wanted to play Germany in the final, because they fear Spain will simply keep the ball for 90 minutes. Their only chance is if Spain fail to take their opportunities, like they did against Germany.

"It is Spain's game to lose, but I will take intense joy if they win it."

Cruyff wouldn't be the only one. But, 36 years after his magical Dutch team's defining defeat at the hands of Germany, can arguably the greatest team of its generation, Spain, avoid the same fate?

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good blog. Like Cruyff says, its is Spains to lose. I don't think they have got out of 2nd gear all tournament, maybe patches of 3rd gear play in the semi. I think it will be a close game. I hope the Dutch score first as that will open the game right up. Looking forward to it.

  • Comment number 2.

    I truly believe that Spain's ball retention is to be admired but in many respects it has left me personally, a little cold on occasion. Simply because it has been used to run their opponents down into submission rather than exhibit any kind of truly devasting passages of play. Perhaps, I am holding them up to higher ideals but although they are likely to win, they have not captivated me in the same way as the more fluid Germans,say. Is it 'death by a thousand passes'? Perhaps. Still, I'd rather that than the shocking displays we saw by England... http://gregtheoharis.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/predictions/

  • Comment number 3.

    TBH anytime spain have tried the possesion thing against south american teams, they have looked 2nd best. 10man chile looked better then em and paraguay were a penalty away. its the european countries who can't cope with spain atm. if it was spain vs brazil, i know who my money would be on

  • Comment number 4.

    The best thing that could happen is for the Spanish to score early. The Dutch will then have to come out. If the Dutch score first, it could be park the bus time.

  • Comment number 5.

    To an extent I agree with Cruyff as Spain are the better footballing side and there is no doubt they will enjoy the lion share of possession.

    However Spain's previous victories have involved fine margins. They outplayed Germany for 90 minutes but still had to rely on a setplay to get their breakthrough.

    Spain are favourites no doubt but to say it is all in their hands is perhaps an insult to the Dutch. One thing Holland need to be is clinical. Over the course of 90 minutes they will have their chances, they need to take them.

    Holland have proved they are a better team than Germany and will be tough opponents. In games this tight it is often one moment of genius or one moment of controversy that can make all the difference. Lets hope for Howard Webb and Co. it is the former that we are talking about on Sunday.

    http://tptroadtotheworldcup.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 6.

    Spain play probably better football, like Holland did in 1974. The thing about football is that only the final score counts.
    That's why I think Holland will win. We're not better at playing football but have both created more chances and scored more goals (I know, also conseeded a couple more then Spain). In short, Holland is very clinical this worldcup, Spain is anything but clinical apart from David Villa. But then again, as they say: 'the ball is round'

  • Comment number 7.

    Tom Turnbull, sorry, how have Holland proved they are a better team than Germany?

  • Comment number 8.

    I hope we see a feast of goals, recent finals have not exactly been classics. I'd like Spain to win as aesthetically they have been the best international team for the last couple of years.

    But then I do have a soft spot for the Dutch because of the great moments they've contributed in the history of the World Cup. The Cruyff turn, arie haans long range belters and bergkamps touch of magic in 98. Bloody travesty they haven't won the darn thing!

    Lets hope for a festival of football and more so Howard Webb has a blinder!

  • Comment number 9.

    Still amazed at the lack of respect for Spain.

    Why do english fans complain at any team that keeps posession of the ball for the entire game.

    Chile & paraguay were not better than Spain.

    Spain would wipe the floor with Brazil, this is not the brazil of old.

    Spain 3-1 in the final

  • Comment number 10.

    Everyone keeps banging on about Spain, but I agree with comments 2 and 3...they have been massively disappointing this tournament. That's no disrespect - what has happened to the swagger and crispness of passing of 2 years ago? Brazil, Germany and Argentina have all been way more entertaining, and sadly this final is being contested by the cautious teams rather than the exciting ones. Still, let's not go all Alan Greene about it - I hope the final will end up being about 2 teams going all out to win it, rather than a cagey, afraid to lose it affair.

  • Comment number 11.

    If Spain win they will have many to thank, but three men will stand out; Cruyff for guiding Brarca always, Rijkaard who took over as manager at a difficult time at Barcelona and started seriously bringing in players from the youth side, and Guardiola for running the youth side in the first place.
    Two of these are Dutch!

  • Comment number 12.

    I don't understand why everyone is suddenly going crazy over how Spain is playing. A few days ago they were written off in favour of the Germans. Spain is nothing like Barcelona. They don't have any type of acceleration. They are unable to create chances. It's just passing the ball around endlessly without any creativity. Arguably the Dutch are playing more offensively than the Spanish. Moreover they have a tremendous scoring capacity that they showed off by scoring 12 goals in their 3 warm-up games against Mexico, Ghana and Hungary. If van Persie is on his game and van Bommel can stay out of trouble I don't see how the Spanish could possibly win or why they would deserve to.

  • Comment number 13.

    "10man chile looked better then em"
    - no they didn't
    "paraguay were a penalty away"
    - right. i suppose spain's penalty 2 minutes later didn't count for anything then.

    all this clutching at straws to discredit spain's dominance is pretty entertaining. i also enjoy the assertion that teams will be good or bad/ difficult or easy to beat based on what continent they are in. do go on

  • Comment number 14.

    Game reminds a bit when Arsenal and Barcelona played the CL final back in 2006 I believe. Worst that can happen to the game is an early red card. And even then, it's going to be a cagey affair, just like all over-hyped games of the past 5-6 years. Nonetheless I'm hoping for an intense game and Holland beating spain courtesy of a Sneijder goal

  • Comment number 15.

    I cannot fathom how people belittle Spain's football.."they can play only possession football...no plan B etc etc"..I bet many English fans on these boards would secretly love it if their team can play half as well as this Spanish team..perhaps then England could probably win a couple of games when it matters eh..The argument that Brazil is better than Spain is utter tosh..this Brazil team is the worst they have put out in a world cup in a long time.

  • Comment number 16.

    Spain are what Brazil used to be.
    pleasure to watch,the only team i realy looking forward to watching

  • Comment number 17.

    Please let the Dutch win! Spain have played the dullest football to get to this final. It reminds me of some of the boring football of Italia 90! Admittedly the Dutch haven't been great (but then who has... Germany maybe?)but at least they've been involved in some half decent matches!

    Holland to win 2-0 please!

  • Comment number 18.

    Thanks for all the comments so far.

    It's interesting how a lot of people seem to fall into two camps when it comes to Spain in this World Cup: either you're just a huge admirer of the way they knock it around and keep the ball, or you feel let down that they aren't playing at their best and have ground teams down instead of destroying them, which we saw at Euro 2008.

    It's not a bad thing to have though is it, the ability to win when you aren't playing at your best? But does that tell you how good Spain are, or how bad the other teams at the World Cup have been?

    lorus59 - agree with you 100%.

  • Comment number 19.

    17. The only reason Spain have been in matches which have seemed dull is because teams are so afraid of them that they stick as many men across their 18 yard box as possible. Yes, the Dutch need to attack them to have a hope of winning but if they go too gung-ho then they can expect to be on the end of a thumping. It's finding that balance that will be crucial to Holland's chances and is the reason Spain are so hard to beat. Go too defensive and you don't give Spain enough to think about in defence and they grind you down eventually but leave yourself open and they'll tear you apart.
    In my opinion the only team who has really got this balance right was Paraguay in the first half. This is the only half of football where Spain were even close to being second best and that was due to every Paraguayan chasing the ball around like a man possessed. Whether the Dutch players, especially Robben and Van Persie, are willing to do this is something I am sceptical.

  • Comment number 20.

    good point Jonathan,
    im a huge admirer of the way Spain pass the ball around,control it etc.
    but i still think the other teams apart from Germany have been a real let down.in my opinion Spain have been trying to score that perfect goal,too many shooting oportunities but they decide to make that one more pass and to walk in to the net with with the ball.they would have scored more goals if they decided to keep it simple.

  • Comment number 21.

    I think it is grossly unfair to say Spain have no Plan B. They have their main style, the passing one everybody admires.

    But against Portugal they brought on a big target man (Llorente) who did an extremely effective job at grinding out the Portuguese centre backs.

    Then against Germany, the winning goal came from a corner, headed into the net by a centre half - Tarzan Puyol.

    Although not deployed for a full 90 mins, those look like Plan Bs to me. Thats why they are not called Plan As. They are the back-up option.

    And it worked in 2 tight games when the tiki-taka was not converting.

  • Comment number 22.

    I've heard it said several times that Spain are basically 'Barcelona without Lionel Messi'. How does that go down in Catalonia and Madrid? What was Puyol's cross hands sign at the end of the Germany game for..any significance or purely innocent?

    I've just seen Messi named in the top ten players in the tournament for the Golden Ball. That's criminal and surely based purely on reputation alone...hope Diego Forlan or David Villa wins it!

  • Comment number 23.

    Just a quick thought - if Paul the Octopus is right and Spain does win the World Cup, will Lord Triesman get his job back?

  • Comment number 24.

    I can't help but envy Spain's record, they are clearly the best side of the past three years. But I still can't get lost in admiration for this style of play ever football pundit seems to wax lyrical about - yet Brazil and Holland are consistently criticised for having the same two holding midfielders and slow build up. Spain played an almost 4-6-0 formation against Germany. Yes it worked. Was it good to watch? God, no. It was a dire game.

    The Spain love-fest is similar to the media reaction to the Milan v Juventus Champions League final in 2003. A dire, awful 0-0 which so called experts tried to pass off as (just as BBC did on Weds for Spain's game) a tactical masterclass, like chess...

    Chess is great to play. Lousy to watch...

  • Comment number 25.

    Silly_season

    I'd rather see Paul the Octopus get the FA job and Triesman put in a big tank of water...

  • Comment number 26.

    Nice comparison to the Dutch "total football" side of '74.

    I think that anyone who is bored by the Spanish keep-ball style is crazy. It is fantastic to watch. It puts so much pressure on the opposition to do something exceptional when they get the ball.

    They have been unbelievably unlucky not to score more goals but fully deserve their place in the final. The Dutch on the other hand are a team with exceptional players who may only need one chance.

    I just hope that after all that has happened before (Henry) and at this world cup that it is not decided by a refereeing mistake or someone cheating....

  • Comment number 27.

    Spain have basically become the victims of their own success. Whereas at Euro 2008, opposition teams allowed them more freedom to play their football and they were able to create and convert more chances, now anyone who comes up against them is paralysed by fear, and immediately set up negatively with ten men behind the ball to frustrate the Spanish, thus relying on sporadic counter-attacks on the rare occasions they get possession of the ball to try and win the game. When a well drilled, superbly organised team unit like Germany adopt these tactics it is extremely difficult to penetrate their rearguard. Presented with the challenge of breaking Germany down, Spain had two options. The first option was to play their normal, patient, passing game. Keeping possession of the ball, waiting until the right moment to play the killer pass when the Germans had allowed a gap to appear in their defence. Option number two would have been to take a more direct approach, but this would have been playing right into the Germans hands. If Spain had persisted in running into a defensive brick wall they would have conceded possession on a regualar basis thus allowing a devastating German counter-attacking machine several opportunities to break away and profit in the same manner as they did against England and Argentina. Wisely Spain decided to go with option one. It's an absolute no-brainer...keep the ball yourself or give it straight to the opponent????

    To those who say that Spain's football is boring, then I say you can lay the blame squarely at the door of their opposition who set up in an ultra-defensive formation, making it virtually impossible to get in behind the back four and create clear-cut chances. I have no doubt that if Germany, Paraguay, Portugal, etc employed more open, adventurous tactics then Spain would probably have scored a lot more goals against them, and all their critics would now be speaking of their football in reverential terms. I don't blame those teams for not being more positive, but it's hardly Spain's fault that the opposition is attempting to kill the game when they meet. Spain's style of football is no different to that which was displayed at Euro 2008. It's the tactical approach of other nations which has changed dramatically, and that is why Spain have found much more difficulty in scoring goals at the 2010 World Cup.

    I've heard so many people criticise the standard of football at this tournament, then when a genuinely brilliant side, who can actually keep possession of a football show their true qualities against an excellent German team they are dismissed as boring. Unbelievable! Why don't we all just revert to kick and rush, error strewn football where teams give the ball away every five seconds resulting in lots of goals from poor play. I suppose then these people will be happy. I admire Spain's adherence to their footballing ideal. It's beautiful to watch, and in Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and co. we are watching a truly wonderful generation of footballers at their peak. Please can we show them some appreciation.

  • Comment number 28.

    so everyone's written off holland already

  • Comment number 29.

    #27, andymac, I agree with you Spain are a great team, but like someone else said a few days ago I think they are primarily set up defensively. They're not interested in stretching play, they want to keep it confined except for the final phase of a movement. They're mastering play in tight spaces, which requires greater skill, while most other teams are trying to open up the spaces, often to overcome a lack of that skill. But the beauty of this system for the Spanish is that, unlike their opponents, because their individuals are so good at keeping possession they don't need to commit so much manpower to situations. Their defence doesn't get stretched. They don't leave big open wide spaces. And if you don't have the ball, you can't score a goal. On the rare occasions they do lose possession most of their players are still tightly grouped behind and around the ball, with the 7 second target for repossession often leading to another long spell of Spanish tiki taka before too long. You can't blame Spain for this, but they're largely responsible for their games not opening up. Let's applaud the quality of their play, but let's not let that mask their stifling of the more open play some of us are hoping for. I'm not a fan of Robben's antics, but his dribbling is capable of breaking up this pattern.

  • Comment number 30.

    so everyone's written off holland already
    _________________________________________________

    Unless the Dutch play so deep that their goal keeper will have no room to move his knees, and hope that Spain do not score for 90+30 minutes, I don't see how the Dutch will nick this one. Alternatively they can press so hard that Spain has no time on the ball, twice as much as Paraguay did. Holland does not have the players for this either.
    The 11 Spain players are better than the 11 Dutch, man for man. Spain has a better collective and team, and they attack more.
    The Dutch will have to spring a "Switzerland" on Spain to win. Portugal tried and failed and so did Germany.
    Holland have a hard job, and we know that they can collapse, as they did against Russia in the Euros of '08 when they were much better. Holland will have to make sure Spain do not score an early goal, otherwise it is all over.

  • Comment number 31.

    It is hard to say anything that has not been said already. Yet, as a Spanish I had the chance to watch most of the games played by the team in the last years and.. well.. It is not easy to score the 6 goals per game that -maybe- would convince some of you, when most of the opposing teams plays with 10 guys inside their own box (call it "respect", "fear", etc.. but even the Germans in semifinals did it). What many of you guys call "dull game of passing and passing" usually is just a refined way to look for a breach among the massive defenses Spain usually have to face. Of course, we could also choose to look for few very tall guys and drop head balls in the box hoping for the best (the "Crouch way" we could call it). i am sure some of the respected bloggers here would find it more "offensive", even "a plan B".. but in the end, it would not be our best choice. We have an amazing generation of players that can do with the ball what other teams only can do playing with their game consoles, so, why not using their skills?
    Sunday's night will be hard, since the dutch have the striking power to find their way through the Spanish defense and then the discipline, strength and confidence to keep the bus in front of their goal. Yet, my desire is that, for once, Spain will score first with remaining time to force the Dutch to open up... maybe then you'll see how "slow" and "dull" Spain midfields and strikers actually are..

  • Comment number 32.

    Entertaining if dogmatic comments.
    My 2p?
    It's one game.
    So although skill will fashion the outcome, luck will determine it.
    End of.

  • Comment number 33.

    Spain have been very good in this tournament. Everyone is saying that they wear teams down and then beat them 1 - 0. This has been a style they have been forced to adopt with Torres being unfit and off form. If he had been fit and on form we would of seen spain winning every game 3 - 0 or more. If you just look at the chances he has missed which an in form Torres would have scored easily and you will see what I am getting at

  • Comment number 34.

    Stevo, I'm sorry but, in using that dreadful phrase re GG, you are demeaning the Spanish Team. The assembly line is now on stream. It now and future. We are only starting.
    Additionally, we have no desire to be linked in any way to the English second rate failures.

  • Comment number 35.

    34

    I get your point in terms of the present and the near future, but longer term no. Essentially La Liga with respect to finance and the best players is a two horse race. With the existing TV deals favouring Barca and real Madrid to the detriment of the rest, the others will not have the resources to spend on player development. Can you be sure that Barca and RM will consistently churn out players at or above say a Fabregas?

    Secondly will the paying Spanish public be satisfied with just seeing good Spanish players playing after having been fed a rich diet of exotic international "galacticos"? It is good to see the Spanish team play with the confidence that they lacked previously, after all we always knew they could play. Wenger touched on the nerves angle saying that the risk of failure were making teams over cautious in the knock out stages: hopefully there will be an early goal in the final to make a more open game.

  • Comment number 36.

    I backed Spain to win it from the outset. I think they have the best team/squad by a distance. And as with all great teams they have progressed without always being at their best.

    Torres' lack of fitness/form has been a factor and it's definitely a surprise that they scored so few goals but they always seem to dominate the opposition, even when they lost to the Swiss.

    The Dutch on the other hand have leaned heavily on Sneijder, Robben and the under-rated Kuyt. But don't underestimate the ability of Van Bommel and De Jong to 'get amongst' the Spanish creative players.

    Everthing suggests Spain and my bet coming in but I just have a sneaking suspicion that Holland will win it. A team/country that hugely outpunches its weight (size wise) and were unlucky to lose 2 finals in the 70's may just have their day on Sunday.

    Yes, I'm predicting a Dutch victory!

  • Comment number 37.

    16. At 4:58pm on 09 Jul 2010, mirso wrote:

    Spain are what Brazil used to be.
    pleasure to watch,the only team i realy looking forward to watching

    -----------------

    I take it other hobbies of yours include watching paint dry? Most people I know find watching Spain tedious to say the least. Watching Spains midfield pass the ball sideways for 90 minutes is not my idea of entertainment. Perhaps this is because the opposition are just sitting behind the ball but its certainly not enjoyable

  • Comment number 38.

    @FabulousRedsReds - Love the comment about the Dutch playing so deep the keeper won't have room to move his knees.

    The Netherlands and Spain are two very good teams capable of playing great football. The problem for the Dutch is they will have to play deeper just to give themselves some space. They may do a Paraguay and flood he midfield to stifle and disrupt Spanish possession but if they do that they will go the way of Paraguay - tired out and picked off. They need to take the game the Spanish and they won't do that with just one player up front. They need two (Robben and Van Persie). They also need either Kuyt or Sneijder to play behind these strikers and in front of the midfield. A lone striker cannot hope to hold the ball up for long enough to bring others into the play. The Dutch should also use Elia from the off. He was excellent against the Danes and won them the match. Aside from skill - he gave them width, space and speed - three things they will need against Spain.

    I'm sure Van Bommel and De Jong will disrupt Xavi and co but it could be at a very high price - i.e. playing a man short. In the last game Van Bommel was lucky to stay on the field. If he and De Jong don't temper physicality with discipline they won't be doing the Dutch any favours.

    However, if the Spanish are more clinical this time - they cannot afford to rely on one strike to win them every game - then I think the Dutch will be chasing shadows. Del Bosque needs to impress on the team, especially Pedro, Villa and Torres, that personal glory doesn't have quite the same feel as being a World Cup winner.

    It'll be 2-1.

  • Comment number 39.

    Spain are a beautiful team to watch, anyone else who disagrees is either

    1.) jealous (mostly fans whose own national teams have been dissappointing)

    OR

    2.) hasn't got a clue about football

    OR

    3.) they prefer kick and rush football. You might enjoy like the NBA more, points every 10 seconds perhaps football is just not your thing.

  • Comment number 40.

    #39 - What a silly statement and so typical of the pro-boring football brigade who can't actually come up with any statistical evidence (or probably even remember anything that got them out of their seats) that Spain are exciting, so they have to resort to vague "you don't understand the game" or "you're a dinosaur" type comments.

    Give some evidence that Spain have been interesting and not just stifled the game with 9 men behind the ball and 600 2 feet passes each game. I'll start you off; 1-0, 1-0, 1-zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...........

    Spain are effective, skilful but just dreadfully, dreadfully dull.

  • Comment number 41.

    I agree with Rich - 3-1 Spain in the final. But disagree with John Green - 'Spain are unable to create chances'. So how are Spain in the final????? the array of talent Spain boast is bewildering. In the final Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Alonso and Villa will 100% start, meaning that 1 attacking position remains to be filled. In that position, Del Bosque can play 1 ) Torres 2) Cesc 3) Pedro 4) Llorent 5) Silva 5 ) Jesus Navas, all of whom can do an exceptional job. the options are astonishing. The team that doesnt create chances will win, and easily. even if the scoreline is only marginal i.e. 1-0 or 2-1. they will keep the ball for most of the game because they are gifted footballers. How can it not be pleasent to watch a team retain the ball, keep the ball, would it better to adopt a tactic whereby the ball is lumped upfront aimlessly? Spain play to their strengths, they are amazing to watch. I for one would love my team Liverpool to keep the ball like them rather than given away loosely/cheaply ie Lucas. As Spain keep the ball, they wear the oppositon down. and wins games as a result. - 3 late 2nd half winners in knockout stages/50 wins in last 54 games. Give credit where its due.
    Spain will be World Cup champions come 1030 pm tomorrow. and the Spain haters hearts will be burning

  • Comment number 42.

    Just hope Spain win. Can you really see Heitinga, Ooijer, Van Bommel & Kuyt as World Cup Champions? Please. It would be an insult to the game. They are hard working, but they have laboured to the final with one good 2nd half performance. Spain hardly deserve it either, but they deserve it more. End of.

  • Comment number 43.

    40: strangely enough you showed yourself to be both lacking in knowledge about football AND someone who should watch basketball, as predicted by comment 39. You can't have "9 men behind the ball" when you're attacking: you clearly don't understand that term, and anyway freeze-frame any Spain match and you'll see how nonsensical your statement is.

    As for the 1-0s, you should probably be watching basketball, yeah. I also like that you call the 1-0s "statistical evidence" - how about Spain's 6-0 thrashing of Poland in their last game before the tournament? Some people find Mozart dull, and as with them I can't say your opinion is wrong - I can just point out the logical flaws in your argument.

  • Comment number 44.

    Sammy, again a pro- boring football supporter resorts to name-calling and vague suggestions. The score (1-0) is surely the ultimate statistic in football? Can't have 9 men behind the ball when attacking, not sure i'm with you there old son...... - so 2 people in a team can't attack together on their own? i'm not going to resort to insults like you guys with nothing to back up your arguments, but with a statement like the 9 men thing is it really me who doesn't understand the game? As for 6-0 in the distant past, let's deal with the evidence on show in the present.....

    I could tell you it's interesting watching my neighbour paint his fence for 90 minutes as he uses the nicest looking brushes and his strokes are at the most wonderful angles and he never drops a splash of paint. I wont tell you that as it isn't true, it's boring..........

  • Comment number 45.

    I don't mind the ball retention, it's the rear end retention when they get into the box, they want to walk the ball into the net. I want to see them shoot from anywhere. Alonso tried it a little the other night, and couldn't hit the target. But I am being picky. Much and all as I would love the Dutch to win, I can't see Spain losing.

  • Comment number 46.

    Assuming the Ref doesn't have a plonker of a game, it's 1:0 to Spain. maybe 2:1 Spain in extra time, but if the Spanish are pulled up on their physicality, I can see a stack of red cards and bedlam Sunday, with a Dutch win.

  • Comment number 47.

    Looking at how they played against Germany, they dominated possesion, passed a lot outside their box, and nothing much else. No clear cut chances (aside from the dieing moments) and no "killer balls".

    They play more like Arsenal than they do like Barcelona.

    If Spain are to be comfortable winners, they will rely on Torres to put a finishing touch on Spain's moves, instead of relying on Villa to conjure something up when they can't do it themselves.

    I'm hoping the Dutch are more patient than their German counterparts, and don't get desperate with the long ball a la England, which plays into opponents hands.

    Spain have had a relatively easy route to the final, thanks to their rivals knocking out the serious opposition.

    I hope the Dutch win, to show there is more to football than passing. A total performance of defense, midfield and attack, and a tiny piece of magic.

    Ideally, Van Persie turns up today, with a magic piece of movement, found by a great pass, fantastic touch and precise finish. We all know he can, and I'm not an Arsenal fan.

  • Comment number 48.

    Reading the comments people said, as a Spain and FC Barcelona fan, I would like to add something.

    Spain is not FC Barcelona, but it is close. The "only" thing miss is a little rat called Leonel Messi. Who is touch by "God"!
    Spain is missing someone who can dribble, someone who can strongly do a 1 to 1 and succeed. Pedro is not like Robben, neither Navas or Mata.
    So this is what Spain is missing.
    After this, I read someone saying Spain wants to walk the ball into the net. This is the same thing that Barca does. But this is because Xavi or Iniesta do not feel confortable kicking the ball from 25-30m, they have been teached to pass the ball, so they think kicking ball from long side, is missing it. Xabi Alonso and/or Cesc Fabregas, as they have been playing in England, they could do that.
    Also, Spain did not face any strong team until they faced Germany, but Holland faced Brazil as a strong one, and Uruguay was only courage but nothing else.
    So, whoever will win, will deserve it. A different football is going to begin. Hopefully Spain wins, and Xavi scores. I think Football owes him one.

  • Comment number 49.

    Can't imagine Holland not having learned from the Spain-Germany match.

    This will be a different ball game. The Dutch will not be as diffident as the Germans.

    And the Dutch have a far higher scoring rate in proportion to their shots at goal than Spain have.

    Also, I can imagine that Robben will come out quite big: He's technically brilliant, very very swift and has a tremendous striking power.

  • Comment number 50.

    I've got a horrible feeling that it will be a dive-off, rather than a game of football. For all their attractive play, I can't help but dislike the Spanish for their play acting and simulation (see Torres vs Chile, also any time Busquets is on the pitch), and Robben, for all his skill, pace and dynamism, seems to play wearing roller skates. Get that yellow a-flashing, Mr Webb - simulation is CHEATING!

  • Comment number 51.

    Lack of respect for Spanish football is absolutley disgracelful. Their passing is quite simply breathtaking. How people can not appreciate that is honestly unbelievable. Some of the negavity from the pundits after the victory over Germany was ridiculous. I think that these pundits just don't understand Spanish football like a lot of the people posting on these pages. Exciting and good football is not Wigan beating Burnley 4-2 playing 'kick and rush' football. Until people understand this, continental football will continue to rule over English football.

  • Comment number 52.

    I have to say that I disagree 100% with yourself, Mr Stevenson and with lorus69. I should say that it is patently obvious that what is required for an entertaining final is for *Holland* to score first.

    If Spain score first they'll just continue to pass it around until we all fall asleep, and when we wake up they'll have won.

    If Holland score first we'll really see whether Spain are World Champion material. It surprises me that no pundit appears to have noted that Spain have never yet been behind in a game and then come back to win it. The only time they went behind (against Switzerland), they lost.

    That, ladies and gentlemen, is the perennial Spanish problem. The lack of the strength of character and self belief in adversity. It's something that the Dutch and the Germans, and, yes, England possess. I've yet to be convinced that Spain have found it; it's certainly something they've lacked for decades, and which every Spaniard I've ever talked to about their national team agrees with.

    We'll see....

    Hup Holland, hup!!

    p.s. Yes, Wigan beating Burnley 4-2 playing kick and rush is *way* more entertaining than watching Spain.

  • Comment number 53.

    spain will win and will dominate the dutch with both a tight defence and possesion wise. it is spains to lose but excpect a exciting world cup final

  • Comment number 54.

    Spain's a great team and the favorites.

    BUT I don't see why everyone is writing off Holland. They really need only play like the Swiss to beat Spain.

    Besides, the last time all and sundry wrote off a team so conclusively before the finals was 98 when Brasil were tipped to win it. I believe the French were considered lucky in their drive for the finals and lacking in strikers to win the final prize.

    Of course Holland isn't on home soil but there are more than a couple of Boers in those parts (If they can make themselves heard over the din of the vovozulas);)

    Favorites beware! Van pummel is coming for you!

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 56.

    This is my First Post...With due respect to all the footballing nations , right now SPAIN is best team in the world..

    I cannot see anyone who can split the defences in Iniesta or Xavi.Club football is different from World Cups..Most of the times in the later stage of the tournament , you need to have people who can unlock the defence in a split second line Iniesta against Portugal and Paraguay especially when the play with tactics..

    Spain Boring...This is bit harsh on FOOTBALL not on Spain. Football is all about playing with foot and how special your foot are.

    It would say Spain are slow but not dull.DULL is different from SLOW.DUll lacks technical gifts whereas you cannot say the same for SLOW..

    Are Iniesta and co boring? No way they are made to look like boring becuase of the opponents tactics.

    If any team that can attack like BRAZIL or Germany does against SPAIN.we could be in for a goal Feast..

  • Comment number 57.

    Don't get too carried away. Keeping possession is great when you are winning (it's sometimes also called "time-wasting", an ugly phrase).

    But keeping possession didn't help Spain much when they lost 0-1 to Switzerland at the beginning of the tournament, did it?
    But their last three games have all been 1-0 victories. And they were good, deserved victories.

    England scored one (or maybe two?) goals against Germany. The problem was that they conceded four, and wouldn't even have been playing Germany if they hadn't conceded a gift-wrapped goal to the USA.
    Successful teams are still built upon a solid defence.

    ....and Johan Cruff also knows, better than anyone else, that the "best" team does not always win (when "best" means that they play the most attractive football). Sadly, Holland lost in 1974. And they scored first.

  • Comment number 58.

    yeh spain need a plan B when you think Iniesta, Xavi, Villa, Torres, Fabregas just havn't got enough this time, someone like Emile Heskey to just push them on late on. haha.

    Both team have too much to prove, summed up by robben (?): 'id rather win an ugly game...'

    How about some sort of reward for the team with more shots on target or possession if its a draw at full time? Like if theres a significant difference in hte stats, the team attacking side gets a free penalty at beginning of extra time. Some sort of incentive to play positively so teams can't play for penalties. Just such a frustrating feature of football, the freedom of the sport allows for negative play. How many tournaments will Spain take a team like this to? horrible to think we'll only see them toil and grind out one goal margin victories and gradually have their flare and confidence replaced with fear of one nil defeats to the likes of switzerland.

    This was Messi's final anyway. The least Germany could have done was go on to win it if they insist on robbing him of his birth right. He is one of maybe four players in 70 years that was born to kick the ball around, the rest are students.
    Torres to get 3 late on as Holland chase game, and his price tag to triple. The trophy slips through his hands, lands on his head and knocks him out. He awakes with a human concience and declares half his transfer fee will go to the poor of south africa who will remain poor when the circus leaves town!

  • Comment number 59.

    Holland and the germans are totally different opponents they will have some time on the ball i dont think they will give it away as much as the germans did when they in possession, i think it will be won on who has the best counter attack however i doubt teams will score like that it will be either from a set pience or a pens some how.

  • Comment number 60.

    I'm backing Spain on the basis of the way they defend. The Dutch have been effective so far without producing any real genius as regards breaking down their opponents. The Spanish keep the ball better and defend as a more cohesive unit and it will come down to whether the Dutch can frustrate them into overcommitting.

  • Comment number 61.


    What a lively and fascinating blog by Jonathan.

    For starters the Dutch need to score two early goals and then the final can be one of the best ever. As said in the blog, Spain has an effective bench strength and trying to come back in the game would bring out the best from Vicente del Bosques’s side. The race for the top scorer of the tournament is still on. Thomas Muller and Diego Forlan are both tied with Sneijder and Villa with five goals each. The last two will try to sneak ahead. What a final it promises to be with so much to think and go for.


    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 62.

    the English tend to make horrendous mistakes on the big stage, so i think the outcome of the game will ultemately be decided by Mr Webb's decision

  • Comment number 63.

    I am suprised at some of the comments made here. I thought that they would reflect a more enlightened and futbol knowledgable crowd. To say that Spain plays boring futbol is akin to believing the world is flat. There are now words to use when speaking to a madman...

    Spain wants and tries to score more goals - the tactics of opponents have prevented this.

    Spain scored more goals in qualifying than the Dutch.

  • Comment number 64.

    It is about time Spain won the World Cup, France have and they are small time compared with Spain as a Football Nation. I want Spain to win but have got to admit it would be cruel for Holland to lose a third final. On the two previous occasions in Germany they were brilliant in all their matches but did not perform in the final, they were with Cryuff the best side in that tournament.In Argentina they were by far the better side in the first 90 minutes of the final but fell away in extra time.(If only Cruyff had gone). Spain are favorites, I want them to win and I wish I could be over there to watch it.. But then again it could be 3rd time lucky for Holland

  • Comment number 65.

    I know that it all boils down to personal preferences, but to say that Spain's style is boring is to blame the victim for the crime. Actually for two crimes: the opponents' inability to take the ball away from the Spanish and their inability --and/or unwillingness-- to play a more offensive brand of football. I hope the Dutch do a better job.

  • Comment number 66.

    It seems from all the comments so far that good football may not be exciting football especially at the top end of competitions.
    Look at Barcelona vs Inter Milan 2nd leg, it was a masterclass of defending against a masterclass of possession football. It was not sooo exciting but for football students its fantastic.

    I have always been a lover of spanish (actually Barcelona) style of football and i wanted Spain to win the Euro Cup. At the moment though I am not a great fan of their style of play as it could be boring. It does lack a Messi type player and Torres form has not been encouraging. David Villa though has been a shining light.

    Lets not underestimate the Dutch though. I hope they watched the semi-finals and decide to be clinical in front of goal. If they are they could still win the world cup.

    It is true that if you don't have possession you cannot score.

    I would like the Dutch to score first early as I don't think they have players to defend for 70mins.

    That should open the game a bit (i hope).

  • Comment number 67.

    Octopus and "Spanish Fly" and Other Hormone Or Aphrodisiac For Athletes?
    ..
    By: Jordan C. Fan, 范楚漳, Prophet of Environment.
    .
    The reason behind Germany's success is their "Psychic Octopus." My name is 范楚漳, the "Octopus" 章魚 should definitely come under My control. So are all other psychics, oracles and objects of predictions will all be come under My Command.

    Since the World Cup is almost over, those chefs of mine should get ready to prepare for My favorite meal:
    .
    Stir fried octopus in garlic, hot pepper, and black bean sauce. Also, there should be no cheering for Spain, and the Spaniard are guilty as sin! The Spanish World Cup teams were cheating. All their players were taking. the "Spanish Fly" as hormones to increase their strength! Unfortunately some athletes or football players also used them when they were making love in bed and end up losing their games in the football field.

    Octopus or "Spanish fly," some people use them both as hormone, sex hormone, or Aphrodisiac. The Spanish team should be disqualified immediately because of using the "Spanish Fly."Those football/soccer players should also make sure that their fly(ies) are not open when they are playing. The Spanish player Iniesta or "Incester" who had scored in the World Cup Final with the Netherlands has a n bad name. He should be banned from the team and the World Cup Game forever.

 

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