Thirty teams have fallen by the wayside in their quest to make it to this, the grandest arena in international football. The mighty, with their pedigree and their championships, have fallen, hard. France and Italy failed to progress from the Group Stage. England failed to live up to the demanding expectations of their media and fans. Again. Brazil crashed out in the Quarter Finals, as did Argentina, oh so spectacularly. The winners of the Semi Finals, Spain and the Netherlands, have progressed to the FIFA World Cup Final to fight for the title of World Champions. The losers, Uruguay and Germany, will fight for honour, and third place, in the playoff match, which should be equally exciting.
THIRD PLACE PLAYOFF: URUGUAY vs GERMANY
Port Elizabeth – July 10
Port Elizabeth will come to life in just a few hours time, when the young German side take on Uruguay in the fight for third place. Joachim Loew’s side will be out to set the record straight, after their heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Spain in the Semi Final. After sweeping aside the likes of Australia, England and Argentina, scoring four goals in each match, the Germans were undone by a 73rd minute header from Carlos Puyol, which sent them crashing to the third place playoff. With Thomas Muller returning from a one-match ban, and Miroslav Klose sure to be potent in attack, the Germans have every chance of claiming third place. If Mesut Ozil gets space in the midfield, it could spell bad news for the Uruguayan defence. Of course, Uruguay has Luis Suarez returning from suspension as well, after his game saving handball on the goal line in the last minute of extra time against Ghana in the Quarter Final. With Suarez and Diego Forlan up front, the Uruguayans are a potent attacking force, especially from set pieces. However, if the Uruguayan midfielders can deny Germany the ball like the Spanish did in the Semi Final, the Germans could end up crashing out of the competition. Goalkeepers Fernando Muslera (Uruguay) and Manuel Neuer (Germany) will both be put under a lot of pressure defensively, with both sides showing they have no trouble scoring. The three-time Champions have found the net 13 times in their six matches, and the Uruguayans (two-time Champions themselves) have scored nine goals over their campaign.
Uruguay have never beaten Germany in their past eight internationals, managing only two draws, and five goals. Germany have won six, scoring a massive 23 goals, at an average of just under three per game! With Thomas Muller returning for the Germans, and Luis Suarez back for Uruguay after his one match ban, the talent will certainly be on show. However, with history stacked against them, the Uruguayans look set to struggle against the young legs of Germany. If they can keep their composure, the Germans could likely repeat the result of the 1970 third place match (where Germany defeated Uruguay 1-0).
Prediction: Uruguay 1, Germany 2.
The stage is set, the teams have been decided, the Jo’bulani is ready, and Paul the octopus has made his prediction (for the record, it was Spain). All that remains is the match itself. Spain have never played in a Final before, and the Dutch have never won one. We are venturing into new and exciting territory, and after all is said and done, we will have a new World Champion (just the eighth in the history of the Cup), and memorable moments to last us a lifetime.
THE FINAL: NETHERLANDS vs SPAIN
Johannesburg, Soccer City – July 11
With just over a day remaining before the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final kicks-off in South Africa, the world awaits the huge occasion with tense anticipation. In the magnificent Soccer City stadium, the Netherlands and Spain will contest the 19th World Cup Final. Spain have never contested a Final before, while the Dutch were defeated in their last two attempts, so there is no doubt both sides will be pushing hard for the victory. The Dutch resilience, and their attacking prowess, has been brought to the fore multiple times in the tournament, but especially in the hard fought Quarter Finals win against Brazil, but also in their 3-2 defeat of Uruguay in the Semi Finals. Spain, although they may not have played their best football yet, have shown they can handle the war of attrition, keeping a clean sheet for three consecutive matches including games against the Portuguese and German powerhouses. David Villa, equal top scorer for the tournament, will be looking to secure the Golden Boot with a goal in the final. Iniesta and Xavi will also need to step up again for the Spanish, as will their defenders, Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique and Joan Capdevila. Iker Casillas will also need to be well and truly on form in goals, to keep out the Dutch attack. The Netherlands will look to their top scorer, and equal leading goal scorer for the tournament, Wesley Sneijder to provide some brilliance from midfield. The Dutch will also look to their experienced winger, Arjen Robben, for some good pace on the flanks. Holland has a reputation for hard line defending, and now, on the most critical stage of them all, the likes of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong will need to stay out of trouble if the Dutch are to go the distance. Martin Stekelenburg will also be thoroughly tested in goals; with the Spanish producing some real moments of brilliance across the tournament, it will be vital that he is not only well defended, but ready for anything.
Road to the Final
Netherlands 2, Denmark 0.
Netherlands 1, Japan 0.
Cameroon 1, Netherlands 2.
R16- Netherlands 2, Slovakia 1.
QF- Netherlands 2, Brazil 1.
SF- Uruguay 2, Netherlands 3.
Spain 0, Switzerland 1.
Spain 2, Honduras 0.
Chile 1, Spain 2.
R16- Spain 1, Portugal 0.
QF- Paraguay 0, Spain 1.
SF- Germany 0, Spain 1.
Keys to the game:
- The Spanish defence being able to hold out the Dutch assault.
- The Spanish strikers stepping up to score goals.
- The Dutch prevent Spain from getting too much time on the ball.
Goals Scored: Netherlands- 12, Spain- 7.
Top Scorer: Netherlands- Wesley Sneijder (5), Spain- David Villa (5).
Goals Conceded: Netherlands- 5, Spain- 2.
2006 World Cup Result: Netherlands- Round of 16, Spain- Round of 16.
Best World Cup Result: Netherlands- 2nd (1974, 1978), Spain- 4th (1950).
Although these two teams have never met before in a World Cup Finals match, this match is sure to be a fierce contest. With everything on the line here, for both nations, it is hard to see who the eventual winner may be. Spain have been the kings of defensive football throughout the tournament, conceding just two goals in six matches, and winning their last three games 1-0. If the Dutch can open the scoring, it wouldn’t be unlikely to see them take control of the match. However, if the Spaniards can keep possession of the ball (as they did against the Germans), it will be very difficult for Holland to generate any attacking flow. Predictions have been made (by the brave), but this one really is too close to call.
Prediction: Netherlands 1, Spain 1 (Penalty Shootout).
A grand finale, thirty days in the making, will play out before the eyes of the world on June 11. We will have a brand new World Champion, a nation that has never won a World Cup before. Spain or the Netherlands; who will it be?
Next time: 2010 In Review! Stay tuned!