Johannesburg: Spain and Holland championed unity as the key to Sunday’s World Cup final battle while Germany’s impressive collection of young talent set out their stall for the 2014 title by clinching third place.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque believes victory at Johannesburg’s Soccer City can strike a blow for national cohesion, a day after a million people marched in northeastern Spain in support of Catalan autonomy.
“There are players from all over Spain here in the squad, we are united and I hope the same feeling of unity occurs back in Spain,” said Del Bosque.
“I think sport does many good things and I hope football could lead to better relations in our country.”
Barcelona supplied seven of the starting line-up when Spain beat Germany in the semi-finals with that figure likely to be replicated when del Bosque’s stylish side look to add a first world title to their European crown.
Dutch skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst also stressed the significance of team spirit as he confirmed there had been none of the tensions between players that have hampered Holland’s chances of success at previous tournaments.
“I think the spirit in the camp has been extremely important,” said Feyenoord star van Bronckhorst, who will retire after Sunday’s final.
“As players you have to spend six or seven weeks together to achieve your goal and I believe, if the atmosphere is good off the pitch, it will be good on it - you will go that extra mile for a team mate.”
It has not always been like that for the Dutch, whose chances of success on the international stage have been frequently sabotaged by squabbling.
Factional in-fighting was as much a part of life for the “total football” generation of the 1970s as it was in the Ruud Gullit/Marco van Basten era of the late 80s, and reached its nadir when racial faultlines in the squad were exposed at Euro 96.
In Port Elizabeth on Saturday, Sami Khedira’s 82nd-minute header earned Germany a 3-2 victory over Uruguay in a rousing and rain-soaked third-place play-off.
The Stuttgart midfielder rose to nod the ball beyond Fernando Muslera, while Diego Forlan was inches away from a dramatic equaliser with an injury-time free-kick that struck the crossbar.
Forlan rounded off an impressive individual showing at the tournament with a brilliantly-taken volley to give Uruguay a 2-1 lead early in the second period, only for Marcell Jansen to restore parity moments later.
“Of course we had all hoped for something better, but this match for third place was also a final that we absolutely wanted to win,” said Khedira.
“At this World Cup we were a very young team and we’ve put down a marker. But we obviously want to win more in the future.”
Thomas Mueller had put Germany in front in the 19th minute, but Edinson Cavani drew Uruguay level in the 28th.
Mueller and Forlan’s goals took them level with Spain’s David Villa and Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder in the race for the Golden Boot with five strikes apiece.
Miroslav Klose’s hopes of matching Ronaldo’s record of 15 World Cup finals goals were dashed after a back injury saw him relegated to the German bench by coach Joachim Loew.