World Cup final features underachievers
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, 1MI Agency
DURBAN - It will be a showdown of two teams that have had the reputation of crumbling under pressure. If failure makes you stronger, then these two teams are among the most muscular.
Spain will play in its first World Cup final. The Netherlands will play in its third. In the end, one of them will earn its first World Cup title.
Fragile, full of angst and unable to bring disparate personalities together long enough to win? Spain and The Netherlands have faced those criticisms before and more.
Considering Spain's win at Euro two years ago, it has shed the mantle of failure, at least a little. The Netherlands will now get a chance to do the same thing on Sunday.
The Dutch lost the 1974 final to West Germany and the 1978 final to Argentina. Spain and Holland have never met in a World Cup. The teams have four wins each and a draw in nine previous matches in matches other than the World Cup.
The Netherlands has yet to lose in South Africa, having won six straight. They have not lost in 25 matches. Spain lost its first game in South Africa 1-0 to Switzerland and didn't blow anyone away with its play until the Spanish beat Germany 1-0 to make it to the final.
But it was enough for German coach Joachim Loew.
"Spain is a wonderful team," he said. "They are masters of the game. Look at every pass. It was calm and convincing. "Yes, I believe they are the best team in the world and that they will win the World Cup."
Spain may well be the best passing team and ball control team. Loew's team scored a lot of goals in this tournament. In many ways, the Dutch are like Germany. They can attack and score with Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt. They are strong physically.
There is no need to remind the Dutch though what Spain did to Germany. The Dutch need to pressure the Spanish just as Paraguay did. Spanish coach Vincente del Bosque says that's when his team suffers.
Netherlands' coach Bert van Marwijk has his own tough decisions to make.
"I love beautiful football but I also want to win," van Marwijk said. "I've been with this team for two years now and over that period I've told the players that we've got a mission to accomplish and we need to believe in ourselves. We're a small country so it's incredible that we've reached the final."
That means the Dutch will do whatever necessary to win. The Germans sat back and played a little too conservatively. Will the Dutch do the same?
Spain is the early favourites.
"We must keep our eyes open and not be blinded by success," said Spanish coach Vincente del Bosque. "We can be conceited and arrogant."
But they will be selfish against the Dutch. They won't share the ball.
There is one thing both these teams share. It's the great desperation they have to win a World Cup. There have been two countries that have won one World Cup -- France and England. Brazil has five, Italy four, Germany three, Uruguay and Argentina two each. The Netherlands or Spain will join that group.
"We are so close to writing history," said Netherlands' Dirk Kuyt. "This is the third time we have reached the final. Now we have to win it."
Spain intends to do to the Netherlands what it did to the Germans.
"It's a final now against Holland, a great team playing great football with great players in midfield and up front," Spain midfielder Xavi said. "We'll have to impose our personality and football on them. If we play like we did today, we'll have a great chance."
Winning a World Cup is the standard that makes a country a great footballing nation. It would be the ultimate compliment for two nations who have suffered ultimate failure so many times before.