I’m asking myself three questions about tonight’s World Cup Final.
Can Spain score more than one goal? Could it be a one-goal game? Can Howard Webb referee Mark van Bommel?
We’ve seen Spain six times and Holland six times.
Spain have more experience, play like a club side, and have a stronger bench.
But Holland are in a roll, Arjen Robben is a match-winner and so is Wesley Sneijder, the human can-opener. His incisive passes and shots have been crucial as they have marched to their first World Cup final since 1978.
Both sides have dodgy-looking defences, both keep winning.
I think Spain have better players. Xabi Alonso is a Rolls Royce footballer. The steely Xavi is a Napoleon of midfield, able to twist away from tackles like a matador. Xavi often has the ball 25 yards from goal but almost never shoots. When David Villa has it 25 yards from goal, he almost never passes.
Iniesta is tenaciously inventive for 55 minutes, then fades. The Dutch will try to exploit that.
Mark van Bommel is an incorrigible bruiser who didn\’t make it at Barcelona. He was a half-back in a team of inside forwards for one season. Bayern Munich suits him better.
Nobody so far has been able to referee MVB, whose violence is very cute. But Howard Webb booked him in the Champions League for a wild tackle on Diego Milito.
I can\’t wait for tonight.
Anything can happen.
All we know is that it\’s a 7.30 kick-off in Joburg.
Seven nations have won the World Cup and tonight it will be eight. And 700 million viewers will switch on to find out if it\’s Spain or Holland.
Spain are looking for the World Cup and Holland are looking for closure.
They want to end 32 years of hurt, the pain they feel after twice losing to host nations Germany and Argentina.
In 1974, Cruyff went round his marker Berti Vogts in the first minute and Uli Hoeness brought him down. The whole world gasped and wondered if the English referee would give a penalty so early in a World Cup Final against the host nation !
Jack Taylor pointed to the spot and Neeskens smashed it past Sepp Maier. But Germany won 2-1 and four years later in Buenos Aires it was 1-1 when a spectacular shot by Robbie Rensenbrink came back off the post. That final went to extra time and Kempes and Bertoni made it 3-1.
After one game an Argentinian defender gave a urine sample and tested pregnant.
Now, after those legendary disappointments, Arjen Robben says the pragmatic Dutch are willing to win ugly.
With the return of De Jong, the positional pachyderm, they will fill holes and make it hard for Xavi and Iniesta to open them up. De Jong isn\’t quite an invisible wall like Gilberto and he\’s far less subtle than Makelele, a tiny assassin whose fouls were movements of seven inches. The little rhino prevents a lot of passes and that\’s why he’s in the team.
As I say, anything could happen tonight. I can\’t call it. Can Spain score more than one goal? Will they win 2-1 or lose 2-1? I don’t know. Can Howard Webb referee Mark van Bommel? Yes.
Holland v Spain could be a one-goal final decided by shot from 30 yards, an own-goal, or another thunderous header from Puyol.
Overall, Spain are more skilful and can bring on Fabregas, Torres or Navas. But Holland are brainier and there is nobody smarter than Wesley Sneijder, who can drop very deep to find a pocket of space, then pop up in the front third to find a different pocket ten minutes later.
The Dutch, a nation of seventeen million people, are proud of their football. They have punched above their weight in the world’s favourite game.
Franz Beckenbauer could not understand how a small country could be so good. Then one day he flew over Holland in a helicopter and saw that the flat land was mostly football pitches.
I hope it\’s a memorable game and one without controversy. One of the few things we can be sure about is that Zinedine Zidane will not headbutt anybody tonight.
Let\’s hope that Howard Webb has a good night. It is a huge honour to referee a World Cup Final. He has given 17 yellow cards in three games so far and it would probably be a better spectacle if he could give Van Bommel a yellow card before kick-off.
Not much more to say, really.
Spain v Holland is the finale of a 64-game World Cup that involved over 200 nations when it started and 32 in South Africa.
It\’s the biggest game of 2009-2010 and will be talked about for decades.
If Spain win, it\’s a double by a fabulous team who took Euro 2008 into World Cup 2010.
If Holland win, it’s like one of those Oscars for Lifetime Achievement, a John Wayne World Cup. Closure at last. Just a shame that they can\’t hand this World Cup to Johan Cruyff, who could hold it up, and then turn round and hand it to Rensenbrink, who could then hand it to Koeman, who could then hand it to current skipper Gio van Bronckhorst, who is 35 and retires after this game.
Of course, any match or any final is open to multiple interpretations. Spain v Holland will go down in history and we know that history is written by the winners.
But, of course, history isn\’t what happened, its only what\’s written about what happened.
If no interruptions, I’ll post a second piece here at noon Sunday.