JOHANNESBURG - Spain will look to do what it did against Germany in the semifinal ... keep the ball on a string.
Germany was quite polite to Spain and allowed the Spanish to do it.
The Spanish won't get the same consideration from the Netherlands when the two meet in the World Cup final Sunday.
In truth, the very survival of the Dutch depends on their ability to throw the Spanish out of their rhythm. Against Germany, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso had the run of the pitch. They were along to push the ball around without worry about pressure or having a cleat land on the top of a foot.
If the Spanish play the same way against the Netherlands, they will find the sizeable shoe print of either Mark van Bommel or Nigel de Jong firmly embedded somewhere on their lower extremities.
Van Bommel especially is a tough midfielder who is uncompromising in his play. He will pressure the ball and force the Spanish to make decisions a lot more quickly than they had to against Germany.
Van Bommel is a throwback, holding, defensive midfielder. He isn't creative and he doesn't pass the ball particularly well. He has one job and one job alone . . . to break up whatever the other team is trying to do.
"Spain plays a spectacular game and it will be very difficult to combat them,"Van Bommel said. "We will have to break their midfield and stop their playmakers from playing. That is our biggest mission because Xavi and Iniesta are great talents. They are the best of their type in the world."
He is an intimidator who must be careful he doesn't get into trouble.
But if the Dutch want any chance of winning the final, they need van Bommel to create havoc with the highly-skilled Spanish midfield.
That's the dilemma the Dutch find themselves in. This team does not have the kind of overall talent the Oranje of the mid-70’s could field.
If the Netherlands plays an open game, the Spanish will find the openings left and cause them no end of grief. If it sits back, Spain will kill them with ball possession.
That's why Van Bommel becomes a key. If he can win ball possession or at the least, hasten the Spanish movements, the Dutch will have some options.
The most important of those options revolve around Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder needs the ball to be effective. If Spain possesses it as it did against Germany, Sneijder will be forced to retreat and focus on defending. That will also take Arjen Robben out of the game.
"We will defend from the front," Robben said. "No one here feels they are too special to get their hands dirty. I was really surprised with how freely Germany let Spain play. We have to start pressing them earlier, and far higher up the field."
Hands dirty, feet dirty and just about anything else that can get dirty if it means getting the job done.