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Fresh Meat

NETHERLANDS – SPAIN

“Fresh Meat”

Final – Preview

July 11th, 2010

There’s a first time for everything, and for Spain, it’s a World Cup Final.  For the Netherlands, it could potentially be their first ever World Cup trophy after featuring in the final in 1974 and 1978.  Those appearances coupled with their Euro 1988 win give the Dutch the historical edge, but recently, Spain is the more accomplished of the two sides after winning Euro 2008.

Neither side is a sure bet for the win, as they are both more than capable of winning the tournament.  The pitch will be packed with talent as the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt will take on the Spanish Armada consisting of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and David Villa.  Ironically, both teams have been notorious for choking in the past, yet both find themselves thrust onto literally the greatest stage in world football.

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Netherlands –

The Oranje are a well oiled machine.  Any questions that were asked of them before the tournament have promptly been answered as the Dutch are now 6/6 in South Africa.  They’re not as flashy as some of their supporters would like, but you can’t argue with the results they’re cranking out.  Beating Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay is no small order but the Oranje have done it well.

In a rich vein of form, the Inter Milan man could win the Champions League and World Cup this year.

Stengths

The Dutch have world class talent littered across the pitch.  Wesley Sneijder is almost without question, the best attacking midfielder in the world and he’s flanked by Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt – two very different players but both extremely effective in their play.  Against Uruguay, their back line looked a lot better than it did in the first half against Brazil, and all four starters should be fit and ready to go against Spain.

Weaknesses

Their defensive unit.  Van Bronckhorst, their captain is 35, Joris Mathijsen is 30 and Andre Ooijer (should he be used) is 35.  Now Van Bronckhorst showed that he still has quite a bit of power in his screamer against Uruguay, but he still can be exposed by speed and trickery.  Notably, he will face quite a bit more of that against the Spaniards, who are brimming with confidence and skill.  If David Villa has a bad game (you never know), then it could really open the match up as Netherlands will be able to fortify the back line while using van Bommel to help defense flow seamlessly into attack.  Also, the Dutch will really have to hope that Robin Van Persie finds some kind of form, because their striking department has lacked bite.

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Spain

If there’s any time to buckle, this is not it.  However, you can’t help but feel that having never been to the finals, that this might be their most likely time to do so.  With so much expectation and playing such hot-and-cold football, who really knows what Spain team will show up against the Netherlands.

Strengths

What isn’t a strength for Spain?  The boast one of the best keepers on the planet, Pique and Puyol anchor the back line, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta and Pedro/Busquets make up the midfield and they have one of the most in-form strikers in the world in David Villa.  They play classy and attractive football, and should they score the first goal, the Netherlands will find it incredibly tough to bounce back.  They’re the strongest squad on paper going into the final, but, as we all know well, that doesn’t mean much.

Weaknesses

The Spanish aren’t flawless, as many would like to believe.  They have tendencies and soft spots that can be exposed if rubbed the right way.  Playing with a lone striker allows teams to crowd them out and frustrate their attack.  Netherlands isn’t known as a counter attacking team, which isn’t good news for Spain as their style is tailormade for stiffling counter attacking play.  I’ve always said that Joan Capdevila is their weakest player, and while that says a lot about their starting line up (because Capdevila is a solid player), he will be facing Arjen Robben and likely Dirk Kuyt.  As the Germans tried to exploit (albeit unsuccessfully) were the soft spots behind the holding midfielder and in front of the defense.  And with Ramos pushing so far up the pitch, Sneijder will make a killing off those pockets in which he can work with Kuyt or Robben.

Gelson Fernandes scores the winner for Switzerland against Spain in the Group opener.

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Prediction – Both teams are formidable sides, but it’s hard to look past Spain now.  Germany was probably their sternest test, and with that out of the way, they look like they could well go on to win it.

Netherlands 0 – 2  Spain



Battle for Second Spot – Group H
Group H –

Spain
Switzerland
Honduras
Chile

The top dog here looks assuredly like Spain.  La Furia Roja are one of the most complete sides in the world, and they, along with the entire nation, would be disappointed with anything less that 9 points from 3 matches.  So with Spain looking the dominant force in Group H, an intriguing battle arises for the runner-up spot.  Honduras are no slouches by any means, this isn’t the Swiss’s first rodeo, not to mention they have a superb coach, and Chile’s attacking mentality is sure to disrupt some of the backlines in the group.
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Chile –
The Chileans look to be one of the early favorites to head into the next round.  With their attacking play and free form

Humberto Suazo (left) and Mark Gonalez look to celebrate in Group H.

forward movements, they will surely wreak havoc on more than one team.  In Humberto Suazo, they have South America’s leading scorer in qualifying with 10 goals, and playing off him is Alexis Sanchez, who has been dubbed “The Wonder Boy” for his technical ability.  On the other side, there’s Mark Gonzalez aka “Speedy Gonzalez”, and make no mistake, his pace will undoubtedly cause some problems for slower outside backs, particularly Switzerland, Chile’s main rival for second spot.  Behind these three lies Mathias Fernandez, the 2006 South American Player of the Year, who not only takes on defenders with aplomb, but is known for his creative play and no look passes.  Chile has top notch manager in Marcelo Bielsa, nicknamed “El Loco”.  However, there’s nothing crazy his results.  He experiments…a lot.  He plays a 3-3-1-3 some days, a 3-4-3 the next or a 4-1-2-1-2 when he’s feeling lucky.  His experimentation and attack-minded play have been a revelation for Chile and they will look to bring that same style of play to South Africa.

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Honduras –
The technically gifted South Americans will be nothing to take lightly.  They have talented players in just about every area across the pitch and though they might be favorites to bottom the group, are by no means the minnows of Group H.  Up top, there’s David Suazo of Genoa on loan from Internazionale , the Serie A Foreign Player of the Year in 2006.  Behind him is his cousin and Wigan Athletic’s Hendry Thomas and Tottenham’s Wilson Palacios.  The manager Reinaldo Rueda will likely play a 4-4-2 with Palacios and Thomas playing holding mid while Edgar Alvarez and captain Amado Guevara feed the ball up top. Their trickery will be interesting to see when paired with that of Chile’s own ability and then Switzerland’s defensive approach to the game.  Los Catrachos’ biggest flaw lies between the goalposts.  Noel Valladares guards the goalmouth for Honduran professional team Olimpia, but he is known for shaky displays and weak clearances.  That could cost them dearly in a group hell bent on advancing to the next round.
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Switzerland –
The Swiss have qualified for the World Cup for the second time in a row, and they are hoping to avoid their fate last time around when they narrowly missed out on the knockout stages.  Going in their favor they have Alexander Frei , their captain and leading goalscorer by twice the amount of the second highest scorer (40 goals).  Unfortunately, the second highest scorer is Hakan Yakin, the 33 year old midfielder/striker.  Yakin is past his prime and should only feature as a substitute.  The next highest scorer is Blaise Nkufo, who is 35 and has scored a lowly 7 goals.  After them, Tranquillo Barnetta has 6 goals and Philippe Senderos with 5.  Obviously, Switzerland’s biggest problem lies in front of goal.  The goal scoring tally goes: 40, 20, 7, 6, 5…etc.  That is why the Swiss rely on their defense to get them through.  They do, however, have several midfielders that are looking to be quite the players but aren’t quite at the pinnacle of their careers.  Next World Cup could be a much different story for the Swiss.
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Joan Capdevila could be the achilles heel of the Spanish side, if any.

Spain
They are technically gifted, pinpoint passers, clinical finishers and overall world class opponents.  Spain has something that not every team in South Africa has, talent AND team chemistry.  The Spanish duo of Xavi and Iniesta are very familiar with each other from playing at Barcelona together, and Fernando Torres and David Villa have partnered each other for the last few years.  Xabi Alonso sits deep and sprays long passes all over the pitch and opens up the wide lanes for play.  If you had to chose a weakness in this Spanish side it would be the left side of defense, Joan Capdevila.  Capdevila is a very capable outside back, however he is probably the least capable player at their position on the pitch, which is saying a lot at how talented this squad is.  Even if there is some shortcomings in defense, they have Iker Casillas in goal, who is a World Player of the Year for 2009 and one of the best ‘keepers on the planet.  It will take some great skill to make one’s way through the midfield, defense and goalkeeper to score, and we may only see that in the later stages
of the competition.
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Prediction
1.  Spain
2.  Chile (possibly by goal difference)
3.  Switzerland
4.  Honduras