With the biggest game in the soccer universe only days away, our resident soccer nerds James Doyle and Daniel Squizzato put their heads together and hash out just who’s got the advantage when Spain and the Netherlands meet for World Cup supremacy.
Daniel: This is the Netherlands’ third shot at winning the World Cup, having lost in the finals in 1974 and 1978. Since we know that well-worn phrases are always correct, I’m confident in proclaiming that the third time will be the charm for the Dutch.
James: I’ll concede that Spain is a traditional under-achiever in the World Cup – always a bridesmaid, never a bride. (Actually, never even a bridesmaid, since this is the first time they’ve advanced beyond the quarter-finals—what’s one step below bridesmaid? Usher?) But things are changing: the core of this squad remains from Spain’s 2008 Euro victory.
James: Spain definitely has the edge when it comes to its players’ club success. Eight members of the squad play for Barcelona FC, which won an unprecedented treble in 2009 (winning the Spanish title, the Spanish Cup and the UEFA Champions League title—essentially the biggest trophy in club soccer) and took the Spanish title again in 2010. These are guys who know how to play under pressure, and know how to win.
Daniel: Pfft. 2009? Please. What have you done for me lately? Wesley Sneijder, who might just be the MVP of this entire tournament, won the treble with Inter Milan this year, and if—sorry, when—the Oranje claim victory, I’m pretty sure he’ll be the first man to claim a quadruple (including the World Cup) in one calendar year. Not to mention, three members of the Dutch side ply their trade for Bayern Munich, who lost in this year’s Champions League final—meaning that the bitter taste of second-best will be fresh in their mouths, and they’ll be extra motivated to avoid it on Sunday.
Jamie: Didn’t Germany have eight members of Bayern Munich on its roster?
Daniel: Moving on…
Daniel: Let’s see. They’ve (quietly) won every single game they’ve played in the 2010 World Cup—after winning every single game in World Cup qualifying (sadly, Spain can’t say the same.) They showed they could come from behind against an ostensibly superior opponent (in their quarter-final win over Brazil) and have blazed their way to the final even without a significant contribution from striker Robin van Persie. If the Arsenal man can find his feet this weekend, look out.
James: No, you’re right, Spain didn’t win all of their matches since qualifying began. They lost one. In fact, they’ve only lost two competitive matches in the last two years—and that includes Euro 2008, the 2009 Confederations Cup (funny, I didn’t see the Dutch there) and the current World Cup. So I’d say their form is pretty strong. Forget the bitter taste of disappointment, Squizz, this Spanish side can’t remember anything but the sweet taste of victory.
James: This is where Spain is going to win the game: by never letting the Dutch have the ball. Boasting the three best passers in the game (Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta) this team is bred for keeping possession, pulling their opponent’s defence apart and striking. The Dutch may be good from set pieces, but it’s a moot point when they never get the ball in the attacking third. We’ll see how good your Wesley Sneijder is when he’s running around in circles after the ball.
Daniel: Congratulations, Jamie, you’ve become the one millionth customer to order an extra large portion of Fawning Over Tiki Taka. Here’s the marvelous thing (or not so marvelous, depending on your perspective, I suppose) about the game—you don’t need 90% of the possession to win. And having 90% of the possession doesn’t guarantee you a win. You don’t think Bert van Marwijk, the Dutch coach, has been watching Spain? You don’t think he knows what to expect? Besides, I remember another national side that had introduced a “revolutionary” style of play that saw them march into the World Cup final. It was 1974. It was the Dutch and Total Football. And they lost. Just sayin’.
Daniel: Here, Holland shines with a classic. A pure classic. A name, a colour, a team. The Oranje in orange. Beautiful in its simplicity, don’t you think? Oh, and I’ll beat you to the punch here: “Orange is a good colour for the Dutch, because Spain will make them look like pylons on Sunday.” Clever. My pre-emptive witty retort: Shut up.
James: Ha! Uniforms? Well, let me just say that orange is a good colour for the Dutch, because Spain will make them look… oh. Damn. I think we’ve seen how much the Dutch like their uniforms—yellow-card machine Mark van Bommel seems determined to rip the shirt off every opposing player in arm’s reach. The Spanish, on the other hand, are looking pretty suave in their navy blues. Almost as suave as their playing style.
James: Spain wins this hands down, no question. Iker Casillas is the best ‘keeper in the world today, and he’s looking very on-form. He’s only let in two goals in South Africa, and made a clutch penalty save against Paraguay in the Round of 16. Plus his girlfriend was voted “World’s Hottest Sports Reporter” by a British men’s magazine, which is pretty hard to argue against.
Daniel: Well, of course he made that save against Paraguay—he had five of his teammates encroaching into the penalty area as the shot was taken, filling the Paraguayan’s mind with negative energy vibes, man. You’ll also recall that Casillas spilled a shot in that game’s final minute that—if not for Roque Santa Cruz’s uselessness on the rebound—could very well have resulted in an equalizing goal. Plus, Casillas has been one of many griping about the Jabulani ball, which doesn’t speak well for his confidence.
Oh, right, Maarten Stekelenburg. Uh. Well, he’s the first-choice keeper for one of the teams in the World Cup final, so he must be good! And I don’t know what his girlfriend looks like, but at least he doesn’t look like a latter-day Joaquin Phoenix.
Daniel: Look, here’s the thing. It comes down to one game. All the hype means nothing in the face of what those players will do when it matters. And that’s what the Dutch have done, and will continue to do—perform. They don’t need a cavalcade of lackeys and sycophants praising their every move, or drooling over them every time they string a few passes together. They show up, they get their business done, and that’s that.
Plus, they don’t have any players who look like a Barbet dog (cough Carles Puyol cough).
James: If you want to talk about hype, it’s easy to find—it’s wearing a bright orange shirt. For all your glorifying the Dutch team, they haven’t won anything since 1988. The Spanish—or should I say “reigning European champions”—are more than hype. And it is great watching them string passes together, because they do it better than anyone else. What I’m sick of hearing about is Arjen Robben. “Robben this, Robben that.” Spain has a whole team of Arjen Robbens. Plus Carles Puyol. And while Puyol’s hair is ridiculous, the Dutch team looks like a support group for male pattern baldness sufferers.
I’ll agree that the Dutch have done some pretty impressive things to get this far, but they haven’t been at all convincing in their wins. Slovakia got a last-minute penalty to get things to 2-1; the Dutch squandered several ridiculous chances to close out Brazil—I think there was even a three-on-one in the Brazilian box—and they had to eke out a 2-1 win; and they let Uruguay get a second goal in injury time to make for an extremely nervy finish. That’s not the stuff of champions, I’m afraid, and if they leave the door open like that against Spain, the boys from Barcelona are going to strut right through it.
Daniel: Oh, a bald joke. Nice. You’ve just alienated a good chunk of the readership. And—who knows—maybe yourself some day down the line. Wouldn’t that be some wonderful karma.
Juvenile humour notwithstanding, are you really berating the Dutch for nearly blowing leads? Besides their near-collapse against Paraguay, Spain almost saw their lead over Germany dissipate when Pedro decided he’d rather dance around in the German penalty area than pass off to Fernando Torres. Actually, given Torres’s recent form, maybe that was the right call.
And while you may be sick of hearing about Arjen Robben, I’m sick of hearing about what an impressive starting 11 Spain is able to boast. You wanna see an impressive starting 11? Try this on for size: Amstel, Grolsch, B. Christoffel, N. Christoffel, Bavaria, Heineken, La Trappe, Jopen, Emelisse, De Prael and Wildebok… you find me a finer starting 11 than that from your side, and I’ll eat my hat.
James: I refuse to be drawn into a completely unrelated “whose beer is better” argument, Squizz. Partly because I don’t want to allow you to lower the tone of this debate. And also because Spanish beer isn’t very good.
The plain fact is that Spain is the better team. This is their golden generation (a term that almost doesn’t apply, since it’s been used for so many teams that haven’t won anything), and come Sunday they’ll be making shoving their Euro 2008 medals aside in the national trophy case to make room for the Jules Rimet Trophy. Luckily I now know the names of a few nice beers the Dutch can use to drown their sorrows.
Spain 3-1 Netherlands
Spain – Iniesta, Villa, Alonso
Netherlands – Van Persie
Daniel: Isn’t this England’s “golden generation” too? Didn’t Portugal have a “golden generation” a few years back? Hasn’t… yeah, you get the idea. Also, could you lend me $1.75? I’m hoping to add that to your “Spain is the better team” argument to get myself a cup of coffee. This Dutch team has the weapons necessary to beat any team in the world, period. Even if you’ve devised some cockamamie theory that Spain is, objectively, “better”, it’s irrelevant—it’s all about who can put together the better game for those 90 (possibly 120) minutes on Sunday. Hup Holland hup.
Netherlands 2 – 1 Spain
Spain – Villa
Netherlands – Robben, Van Persie
James Doyle and Daniel Squizzato write for Some Canadian Guys Writing About Soccer, which takes a passionate (and often irreverent) look at the Canadian soccer scene, major international tournaments and all sorts of odds and ends related to the beautiful game.
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Uniforms that never should have made the World Cup—The 10 worst uniforms in the tournament’s history (PHOTOS)
The journey of the underdog—As Uruguay enters the semi-finals, a look at the best underdogs in World Cup history
The hurt soccer—13 unlucky players whose injuries kept them from World Cup glory
Why are top teams doing so badly?—Ego, injuries, bad attitudes and maybe, just maybe, other teams are getting better
Seeing red—Six red cards were doled out in the group stage. Were they deserved?
A league of their own—The favourite teams and stars to watch in the battle for soccer glory