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Posted by Eduardo Alvarez on 07/10/2010

After getting rid of most of my emotional baggage in the previous post, and having managed to arrive safely and timely in Joburg early this morning, here I am, back in top form. Nice to be in what amounts to my ninth South African hotel in just over 15 days…

With no further ado and for the last time during this tournament, let’s go through what Spain need to do to beat their final opponent, in this case the Dutch. A sizeable part of this ‘insight’ – that was the modest me writing – comes from having watched every single match the Dutch have played during this World Cup, with specially significant data taken from their win against Brazil. I can’t deny that some other part of the article comes, with no small quantity of pain, from being a Real Madrid supporter, and therefore very familiar with the likes of Robben, Sneijder and, of course, Van der Vaart's girlfriend.

Four key success factors for Spain to become World Champions (hold on, I am going to read that sentence out loud again… Ok, we’re good) tomorrow:

1) Take care of the ball. Spain did this wonderfully against the Germans. Achieving the same level of ball possession figures – I am referring to Spain’s percentage until 'Puyi' scored, obviously – would be even more damaging to the Dutch than it was to Löw’s team. The Germans knew how to play without having possession, and even though they didn’t resort to fouling, they didn’t open up when Spain moved the ball around either.

That is not the case with the Dutch. During their quarterfinals match, and before the verde-amarelos self-combusted, Brazil proved that you can find plenty of space behind the back of the Netherlands’ back four if you can put together a quick string of passes in the final third. Given that Xavi and Iniesta appear to be finding their form, it’s up to them to keep possession and create some openings.

I would focus Spain’s offensive on the great Gio vB, who wasn’t the greatest of defenders back in his time with Barça, and now has three more years in his odometer. This could well be the best opportunity for Sergio ‘Crazy Horse’ Ramos to score. It’s already overdue.

2) Keep the lines very close, in offence and especially in defence. Another key factor in the German win, it is equally important against the Dutch. If the Spaniards play together, the counter-attack becomes much more difficult for their opponents, and the ball recovery happens faster. With the likes of Robben (more on him in a second) and Van Persie on the pitch, avoiding open spaces at the back is as instrumental as it was against the Germans. Tactical discipline will be a must (yes, that one was aimed at Crazy Horse).

3) Force Robben to go right. If I asked ten of you to describe the archetypical Robben goal, all ten would depict exactly the same play (unless you’ve been living in Mars for the last five years, of course): he gets the ball ten metres past midfield wide on the right hand side. He goes forward and starts dribbling to his left. Takes on one, two, three players, always going left. At this point, just outside the area and in front of the goalie, he takes a shot, usually to the right side of the keeper (his goal against Slovakia shooting to the left of the keeper even managed to surprise me after several seasons watching him play… and get injured…)

For the first hour of their match, Brazil frustrated Robben by forcing him to go right, which amazingly enough most teams don’t seem to be able to do. I can’t believe how many times he does the same play, just because defenders allow him to go left. Sheed Capdevila and Puyol better be coordinated to get this balding baby under control.

4) Be alert in set pieces and long range shots. The Dutch have a decent repertoire for dead ball situations, always using a leftie (Robben) to take them from the right, and a right-footed master (Sneijder), to take them from the left. This means that the Jabulani always spins towards the opposition’s goal, therefore any touch can get you in trouble. Puyol and Piqué were almost perfect in their defensive aerial obligations against Germany, but I do believe that the Dutch takers are a tad bit better than his Deutsch counterparts. The less Spain foul close to the area, the better. In a related topic, the Dutch have been the most prolific team of the tournament scoring from long range. Busquets and Alonso will have extra work to prevent the Netherlands’ midfielders from having a go from 20 metres or more.

I do believe that the Dutch will have learnt from the German experience. You can’t leave Spain enjoy possession and get their passing game going, because if you do that, you’ll spend the whole match chasing shadows and praying for the Spaniards to make an uncharacteristic mistake. The Germans didn’t bother to commit constant fouls in order to break Spain’s rhythm, which was surprising because that has been the best way to defend Del Bosque’s team so far – ask the Paraguayans. I expect the Dutch, namely van Bommel and Jong, to be much more physical and risk some hard tackles on Iniesta and Xavi to intimidate them and let them know that they won’t have an easy 90 minutes.

Once more, the Spaniards will need patience to find an opening. But even though I believe that this will be a tougher match when compared to Germany’s, I also think that the Dutch will give Spain more opportunities to hurt them at the back. It will be a tense encounter, it won’t be pretty and it will make me suffer more than I thought a football match ever could. But call me a masochist: I am terribly glad to have the chance to go through all this.

Let the best team win.

PS. I will leave you with five random predictions:

1) Xabi Alonso will score off a long-range shot.
2) Casillas will have at least three awkward moments with the Jabulani.
3) Del Bosque will not replace more than one player during the first 85 minutes of the match.
4) Howard Webb won’t show more than two yellow cards and won’t award a penalty kick to either team, regardless of what happens inside both areas.
5) Remember those US$ 200 that I saved? I’ll have spent them in food and drinks within 18 hours of my arrival in Joburg.


Posted by James08771 on 07/10/2010

Hi Eduardo,

I can't imagine you're getting much sleep tonight. Don't blame you because I don't think I'll get too much myself. While Spain's Barcelona contingent has been getting the most headlines in South Africa, I have a feeling that tomorrow night's going to be all about Real Madrid's current and former players. As you said earlier, the Ramos/Gio Vb and Capdevila/Robben battles will be key in determining the victory. As long as Spain's midfield is as astute as it was against Germany, I think they'll be able to neutralize Sneijder and thus isolate Van Persie and Kuyt. Let's just hope that Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Iniesta will be focused and up for the challenge to withstand the constant bombardment from Van Bommel and De Jong. Regarding your predictions, as a regular follower of your quiniela, I can confidently agree that 3/5 will come true because I think Iker will confidently own the Jabulani tomorrow and I bet that the $200(USD) will be spent within 12 hours!

James (Canada)

Posted by Joseph on 07/11/2010

Ed: I have been enjoying your blogs all tournament long. I live in the US, but have family in Spain. I have been following the Spanish team since the early's been hard but I have managed. I am really excited for the match, its going to be legendary. Regarding the final. I have watched all of the Dutch games as well and I feel that they are a good team, but defensively not as good as the Germans. However, I think they are better offensively and will probably take better advantage of chances than the Germans did. However, I think Spain will have more chances too and I expect the match to be higher scoring than Spain's previous matches. I really hope Spain wins, and I think they will. I think the Dutch teams best hope is to get a couple of odd goals (e.g. Switzerland's goal), which unfortunately they have been getting a lot of up to this point in tourney. I hope their luck is out. Also, I believe in El Pulvo Aleman!

Posted by newf on 07/11/2010

So, now we wait and hope. A goal each from Ramos and Xabi would really open things up! (Xabi in particular had the openings against Germany, but seemed just to tightly coiled to focus on the goal.) If those long goals happen, then Villa should have room to roam and score too and pick up his well deserved GBoot.

Do it early boys, and then we can relax and enjoy.

But, that is not really what we expect, is it?

Posted by Sharad Ananthanarayan on 07/11/2010

Hola Eduardo

I can only imagine what you are feeling ahead of tonight's game, the biggest in Spanish history! I should mention its quite amazing for me n us other die-hard Spanish supporters here in India as well..! Added bonus for me because I am such a huge Real Madrid fan, oh what i would give to see Saint Iker lift that trophy tonight!

Totally agree with the bit about Arjen Robben and I think today will be Capdevila's most important performance of his international career! Of course that can be said about every man out there. Also, I hope Villa does get on the scoresheet and end up outright golden boot winner!

Anyway, whatever happens, may the best team (SPAIN) win... VAMOS A GANAR!!

Posted by kj on 07/11/2010

ed, great points, again. i think the robben issue can be handled by this team. if you think about robben's "a la izquierda," it's the preferred move of messi. these guys know that move. plus, i don't think robben is as good at it.

also, sneider has been playing well, but so has biscuits. the kid will have another good game and shut down their playmaker. plus, it would be a shame to see sneider take the golden boot (deflections anyone?).

any word on torres v pedro? i'd love to know what you think the best move for this match would be...


Ed Alvarez: Torres shouldn't start in any case...

Posted by Pink Jacket on 07/11/2010

Who do you think messed up the world cup more: The bad refereeing or Paul the Octopus? Common, How would I enjoy a game that I know the result upfront?

Posted by BenX1332746 on 07/11/2010

Good luck to Spain, hope they do it for you Ed. Liked your last post here too, about the airport etc. This without doubt Spain's biggest match in history by far, and you will be there in person! Good luck only 7 hours to go!!!

Posted by Spanasian on 07/11/2010

I really hate the fact that most people are billing us as favourites. I always thought Howard Webb was more of a card-happy ref? I'm still banking on Van Bommel being overwhelmed and sent off within the first half!

And I think Torres is going to start and he's going to be replaced by Pedro in the 60th minute, so only 1, 2 and off are likely to come true! :)

Posted by Ishmam on 07/11/2010

I pray the dutch wins since they don't deserve to leave the trophy to their opponents for the third time in world cup finals.Moreover,they are unbeaten since the qualifying round.I will love to see them breaking the record of brazil of being the only unbeaten nation in 1970's.Hope luck favours them throughout the match while spain make the horrible mistakes.A German fan will love to watch this,like me.

Posted by WILLARD on 07/11/2010

its obvious spain gna win luk at wat barca have achievd and thats spain 4 u

Posted by Sammy on 07/11/2010

I'm from Nepal and I've been following your blog this whole world cup. I've read the other ones as well, but your knowledge of football is great, and combined with your wit, it makes this blog just great.
I'm an avid Barcelona fan, and for the blaugrana, I'm supporting Spain tonight. Hope $200 is money well spent at the end of the night!! :)
good luck!

Ed Alvarez: Thanks for taking the time to read and write back, Sammy. Btw, I couldn't manage to spend the whole US$200!! Drinks are too cheap here!!

Posted by Vince on 07/11/2010

My my! This is a really detailed analysis! Kudos man! Really good article =D I second your random prediction that Casillas is gonna screw up with the Jo'bulani XD

Ed Alvarez: Saint Iker Casillas was perfect tonight. More on that tomorrow

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Eduardo Álvarez has written about Spanish football for Soccernet since Euro 2008 in Austria, where he witnessed a rare Spanish victory. He'll follow the Team Formerly Known as The Armada to South Africa, and will bring you all the news and gossips from the Spanish camp.

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