I’ll admit it: I’ve become a soccer fan. Maybe not a hardcore one. Probably not one who’ll watch an MLS game or follow the English Premier League. But I’m definitely a fan now. I can see the excitement in the game, the tension, the beauty. I’ve caught many of the World Cup games this year and enjoyed them all. And now we have the finals. The Netherlands and Spain. One game to play for the right to say you’re the best soccer team in the world. One chance to become legendary. And in 24 hours, we’ll have a championship. But who will it be?
This is an excellent match-up for the finals. There are many striking similarities between the two teams and their playing styles. Both are pass-heavy teams that rely on ball control and possession, preferring to keep the ball moving laterally, setting up scoring opportunity in drips and drabs. Then when the time comes, both teams strike. Each team features a Golden Boot (most goals) candidate- David Villa of Spain and Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands, each with 5 goals. In all likelihood, the team that wins the World Cup will most likely feature the Golden Boot recipient as well, which would be appropriate. Forward Dirk Kuyt of Holland also leads the tournament in assists with 3. David Villa, meanwhile, is the Spanish assists leader for Spain, meaning he can recognize scoring opportunities for others and doesn’t play selfishly. Goalkeeping favors the Dutch slightly, with Maarten Stekelenberg edging Iker Casillas by 3 (15-12). Stekelenberg is in the top 10 amongst World Cup goalies; Casillas is in the top 20.
Honestly, I see this game playing out one of two ways, and it all comes down to ball possession. If Spain does what it can do, passing and passing so that the Netherlands can rarely even mount an offensive strike, then the game may end 1-0 in Spain’s favor (as it has in the last two rounds). However, the Dutch are a slightly better shooting team, with their secondary goal scorer, Arjen Robben, leading secondary Spanish scorer Xavi by a goal (2-1). The Dutch offense is a little more dynamic, so if they can get control of the ball and mount some attacks, they could score multiple goals because they have multiple options. If the Dutch are able to go on the attack, I see them winning something like 3-1.
But it’s hard to choose between the two. Both teams are so similar. My choice goes with the Dutch. They have a few things working in their favor. First off, they are undefeated up until this point. Second, I think beating Brazil gave them more momentum than any Spanish victory has up until this point. Third, they have an advantage at goalie. Stekelenberg is slightly better than Casillas, and that might make the difference. Spain can control the ball, but I question if they can score enough goals to win it all. The Dutch lead the Spanish by five total goals (12-7), whereas the Spanish lead the Dutch in goals conceded by three (5-2). Do the math, and that means if both teams play to their strengths the Dutch should win by two goals.
The Netherlands have never won the World Cup before. Spain has never even reached the finals. Expect both to play as hard as they possibly can, but they may translate into a very slow game. With each team’s ability to control the ball, pass accurately, and control the clock, there may be very few scoring opportunities for either side. But frankly, I’m pulling for the Oranje. I think the party in Amsterdam will be epic, far greater than anything Madrid could hope to achieve. And again, I feel they have an advantage at goalie and on offense. Look for them to push early to try and get the first goal. If Spain scores first, they may just clock control the game away and the Dutch may never get a chance to equalize. But if the Netherlands can score first, Spain will have to play with more aggression than we’ve seen from them all tournament. It all depends on the first goal.