That Holland could be the dourer of the two teams on Sunday says a lot about the final of Africa's first World Cup, doesn't it?
Holland were the first to qualify from Europe and haven't lost a game in this World Cup, qualifiers included. They run on Wesley Sneijder's brain and his powers of intellect are complemented by an Arjen Robben reborn, Dirk Kuyt's lung power and the promise of Robin van Persie. Holland have blended inspiration with industry so well that Mark van Bommel's midfield brawn is crucial and Giovanni van Bronckhorst's wearing the captain's armband appropriate.
But Spain, as Germany coach Joachim Loew said, are a team of multiple Messis. They love keeping the ball on the ground and can stitch sequences of passes that would leave a packed Soccer City wowing in unison. Like Barcelona, Spain press hard when opponents have the ball and are loath to give it away when in possession. Not just Andres Iniesta and Xavi, even Gerard Pique is so comfortable with the ball going forward that you sometimes forget he is a centre-back. Shakira is among his many fans.
Spain can leave Fernando Torres on the bench, never give Cesc Fabregas a start and still force teams on to the backfoot. And make too much of the pass that never happened from little Pedro in the semi-final at your peril. He has gone from gone from obscurity in the lower regions of Spanish football to a World Cup final in less than two years.
Sergio Busquets has seamlessly slipped into Marcos Senna's shoes, freeing Xavi and Iniesta to strut their stuff. The grit of Carles Puyol and Iker Cassilas' brilliance are minor details that make the team more than the sum of its parts.
“The important thing is that we keep our calm and maintain our spirit. We know that's the road to follow,” said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.
“At this moment I think Spain play a little more attractively than we do. Although we would like to do the same, they have a few more advantages right now. There are no secrets for us with Spain. We are not afraid,” said Holland coach Bert van Marwijk. It is the last part of the comment, the icing on the cake if you will, which is important. Van Marwijk has once shown with Feyenoord that while he may not have the best players, he can create the best team. Since July 2008 the silver-haired coach has largely succeeded in doing that again.
Van Marwijk has repeatedly said that finishing second means nothing to him. Unlike Dutch teams of the past, this squad is united; as a reference for complacency, guess what Van Marwijk cited? The 1974 World Cup final.
The Holland coach though gave Spain their due saying, “they are playing very well with the ball and without the ball. So it could be a very interesting game between two teams who want to play football.”
If unlike Germany, The Netherlands, for whom midfielder Nigel de Jong and defender Gregory van der Wiel will be back from suspension, do play football, they won't be the more dour of teams in this summit showdown. Spain too will love that. As will neutrals.
Carlos Marchena, the Spain player, said on Friday, that he thinks “the history of football owes us one.” That could be said of the Dutch too.