World Cup fame looms for Dutch or Spain

The World Cup winners club will enrol a new member on Sunday whatever the outcome of the Soccer City final between European heavyweights Netherlands and Spain.

Last Updated: Jul 09, 2010, 17:52 PM IST

Johannesburg: The World Cup winners club will enrol a new member on Sunday whatever the outcome of the Soccer City final between European heavyweights Netherlands and Spain.

Netherlands lost consecutive finals to hosts West Germany and Argentina three decades ago while Spain are appearing in the international football showpiece climax for the first time.

Brazil (five titles), Italy (four), Germany (three), Argentina and Uruguay (two each), England and France have lifted a trophy that symbolises national team supremacy.

While few pundits predicted a month ago that these countries would make the decider, Spain are rated second in the world behind Brazil and Netherlands fourth behind Portugal and the rankings are a good general guide.

Spain start favourites on the back of an impressive semi-final triumph over Germany but few dismiss a Dutch team that came from behind to eliminate record five-time champions Brazil at the last-eight stage.

Perhaps the biggest surprise ahead of a match that will attract a sell-out 90,000 crowd and a worldwide television audience is that the countries have never clashed before in the tournament.

But the adversaries know each other well as the Spanish side is built around the stars of Barcelona and Real Madrid while European club champions Inter Milan of Italy are among the suppliers of talent to the Dutch.

Think of Spain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, defender
Sergio Ramos, midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta
and striker David Villa immediately spring to mind.

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres was on that list
pre-South Africa but after failing to score in five starts,
was dropped for the Durban showdown against Germany.

Villa, a 40-million-euro close-season Barcelona signing
from Valencia, has been the chief source of goals, bagging
five to make him joint leading scorer in the tournament with
Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder.

The other two goals have come from Iniesta and veteran
mop-haired defender Carles Puyol, who darted forward to send
an unstoppable header into the German net with 17 minutes left
to break the semi-final stalemate.

It was the third consecutive 1-0 victory for Spain after
ousting Portugal and Paraguay. A shock opening-match loss to
Switzerland in the group stage was followed by victories
against Honduras and Chile.

Netherlands have been far more prolific scorers, claiming
12 goals for an average of two per game while Spain with seven
have managed just over one per outing.

Arsenal striker Robin van Persie and Bayern Munich
midfielder Arjen Robben were expected to be the leading Dutch
scorers in South Africa, but Inter midfielder Sneijder has
stolen a march by netting five times.

His achievement has not gone unnoticed with Manchester
United expressing interest although the Dutch star stays he is
happy at San Siro and has no intention of changing his work
address to Old Trafford.

He and Robben swung the semi-final against surprise
packets Uruguay by scoring within four minutes in a 3-2
victory that was more emphatic than the score suggests.

Other Dutch scorers include captain and leftback Giovanni
van Bronckhorst, whose long range thunderbolt that flew into
the roof of the net is certain to be a candidate for goal of
the tournament.

After opening with a 2-0 victory over Denmark, the Dutch
defeated Japan, Cameroon, Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay by
one-goal margins to qualify for the match every footballer
dreams of being involved in.

PTI