The Spanish have gotten better as the tournament has gone along, culminating in their domination of Germany in the semifinals possession-wise. Even then, the German central defenders made it hard for David Villa up front, but I don't think he'll have as much trouble with the Dutch defense and should get free for more chances. Wesley Sneijder knows how to succeed against teams that possess the ball so much (see Inter-Barcelona in this year's Champions League) and should find some openings. But in the end there's just too much quality in this Spanish team.
Spain has dominated possession in every game, and there's no reason to think that the Netherlands, with its deep-lying central midfield, will be able to change that pattern. There were signs against Germany that the shift to 4-2-3-1 is giving Spain back its fluency, so I expect it to not only break through for a goal but also to add a second on the break as the Dutch chase an equalizer.
Spain has kept the ball better than anyone else at this tournament and the complaints about the lack of explosiveness fail to see how good it has been. Holland will not get the ball nearly enough to be truly dangerous. Villa and Fernando Torres will both score for Spain.
Assuming coach Vicente del Bosque sticks with a five-man midfield, I expect Spain's high pressing to take its toll on the Dutch midfield duo of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, two destroyers who will struggle to link with playmaker Sneijder. Defensively, the Dutch back line will be exposed by Spain's passing in the final third, and other than Arjen Robben's pace troubling Joan Capdevila, I don't see the Dutch threatening too much offensively, beyond a late consolation goal.
Spain has seized the initiative faster in its matches then the Dutch have done and created more consistent pressure in opposition territory, which tips the balance in its favor. Each side revolves around two defensive midfielders and a wily creative axis, and though there's little to choose between the contributions of Xavi and Sneijder so far, Spain's Xabi Alonso/Sergio Busquets combination offers greater composure looking forward than the arguably more destructive Dutch duo of Van Bommel and De Jong. Spain has shown itself to be patient enough for a tight game, though I'm expecting at least one moment of splendor from Sneijder and Robben to force the issue.
The Spaniards took time to get going in this tournament, but the masterful performance against Germany will give them a renewed confidence that their system does deliver. It will be a slightly more open game than Spain's semifinal -- the Dutch are not really set up to play on the counter -- and it's possible to see Robben pinning back the Spanish fullbacks in a manner that Germany was unable to do. Holland's danger from set pieces might well bring a goal as well. Ultimately, it's hard to see how the Dutch will be able to deal with the high pressing by Del Bosque's men. If anything, the Dutch center backs are worse on the ball than the Germans', so Spain should be able to win the ball back early and run its opponent ragged.
Spain will dote on the ball and enjoy an advantage in possession, although not to the extent it had against Germany. And the Spanish will get their one goal, just as they did against Germany, Paraguay and Portugal in elimination play. But while the Netherlands won't be as elegant in possession, it has slightly better overall balance through the lineup. De Jong's return and the team's overall ability to generate goals in a variety of ways -- including Dirk Kuyt's industry, an underrated element of this side -- will pay off. The Oranje will find a way through twice.
No team has ever lost its first game at a World Cup and gone on to win the final, but this Spain team is unique. Undoubtedly the best national side in the world over the last two years, it has slowly improved, had a healthy dose of luck along the way (notably in the quarterfinal against Paraguay, which missed a penalty to take the lead) and was marvelous in the semifinal. It deserves to win the final and has the edge over Holland given its ability to keep the ball, remain patient and play solid defense. Up front, Villa will cause problems and Pedro could give Gio van Bronckhorst a headache in Van Bronckhorst's final match. This time, I am banking on Pedro to pass for a breakaway late second goal.
MORA Y ARAUJO
After Spain lost its first match, Argentina coach Maradona joked that assistant Hector Enrique observed: "If the goals were on the side of the pitch, Spain would have scored loads." However, Spain's having the last laugh, as it slowly built up a convincing mix of skilled individual players functioning well in a thought-through tactical system. I see Spain as Barcelona plus guests: Barcelona's "Total Tactics" approach is reflected in Spain's game this World Cup.
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