Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Spanish gold after a classic showdown

It doesn’t get any bigger than this. Or better, if you end up on the winning side. For the losers, though, it will be a lifetime of regret. This is the World Cup final, and Holland versus Spain has the ring of a classic about it.

Down the years this pair have entertained us with their attractive brand of football. They have won admirers all over the planet but have never won the most sought after trophy in sport.

Tomorrow night, in a packed Soccer City stadium, one will.

Iker Casillas or Giovanni van Bronckhorst will lift that beautiful golden sculpture high into the Johannesburg air, and in that moment a nation will rejoice.

The Spanish are favourites — they are European Champions after all. But it promises to be close because the Dutch are a fine side.

We’ve been through the fact that they don’t play in the scintillating style of the Total Football teams that took the Netherlands to finals in 1974 and 1978.

Of course, both those sides oozed talent and class, but ultimately they didn’t have the temperament or mental capacity to see the job through.

There is a real inner strength about the current Dutch squad, that they have what it takes in their feet and between their ears to be able to succeed where their predecessors failed.

To win, the Dutch must have the ball. Stating the bleeding obvious? Yes, but when Spain are the opposition it’s not exactly straightforward — just recall their semi-final.

Germany, who brought this tournament so much excitement and so many goals, couldn’t get the ball for long periods. They would have been safer bringing their own!

So dominant in possession were Spain that the Germans had to feed on scraps while Spain feasted on a banquet.

The Dutch, never shy of having a dig at their old rivals, accused Germany of being frightened, almost like rabbits caught in headlights.

Well, Spain can certainly dazzle you with all that passing and movement, that’s for sure.

Holland say they will show no fear.

There’s been quite a bit of big talk from the Oranje, with their players saying they’ll attack the Spanish and expose their defensive weaknesses. For the record, Spain haven’t conceded a goal in the knockout stages.

Talking the talk is one thing. Walking the walk something else.

Wesley Sneijder, who has enjoyed such a brilliant month, will be the vital figure in Holland’s game plan. He must dictate in midfield and be assisted by Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong in doing so.

Should they control the midfield, that will allow the graft of Dirk Kuyt and the craft of Arjen Robben to flourish on the flanks, and give striker Robin van Persie the opportunity to finally deliver in this competition.

Robben has been overshadowed by Sneijder, but he has the ability and certainly the confidence to produce on the grandest stage of all.

Self-belief won’t be lacking in Spanish ranks either. How could it after the way they overcame Germany?

The midfield battle is the key to this game, and that’s why so many feel Spain have the edge. The reason? Xavi and Iniesta. Individually they are awesome. Together they are unstoppable.

When they have the passing ability and protection supplied by Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets to compliment their skills, they have magic in their boots.

Yet amazingly neither has been Spain’s player of the tournament so far. That honour goes to David Villa, who like Sneijder has scored five goals. With or without his pal Fernando Torres, Villa represents danger from out wide or in central areas. Holland have to keep a tight rein on him.

I can’t wait. The 2010 World Cup has been a mixture of some good, more bad, and a bit of ugly (England and France).

What is needed now is something great — a never-to-be-forgotten final, with loads of goals, thrills and spills.

May the best team win. I expect it to be Spain.

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