FIFA World Cup – Final Preview
So we’re almost there. After four weeks of quality football (ok, maybe barring the first week in which almost every team played not to lose) the tournament is about to come to its conclusion and, in what was already an historic competition due to its setting on the African continent for the first time, the FIFA World Cup will be won for the first time by either the Netherlands or Spain. The Dutch have played in two finals before but lost in consecutive tournaments in 1974 and 1978 losing out to the respective host nations of West Germany and Argentina. Will it be third time lucky for Bert Van Marwijk’s men? Or will Vicente del Bosque secure a European Championship and World Cup double for the Spanish? Having lost the first match of the tournament to Switzerland the tournament has seen Spain get the job done. Having been on the verge of elimination the Spanish reached their first ever World Cup semi-final and have, likewise, reached their maiden final appearance with effective performances and having survived a few scares on the way. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at the Road to Johannesburg for both teams:
GROUP STAGE: v Denmark 2-0; v Japan 1-0; v Cameroon 2-1
The Oranje were drawn in one of the easier groups of FIFA World Cup 2010 but, as the old cliché goes, you can only beat the team that’s in front of you and that’s what the Dutch did in effective, if not spectacular, fashion. In their first game against Denmark the Dutch were the beneficiaries of some poor defending which saw Daniel Agger score an own goal before his team mate at club level, Liverpool’s Dirk Kuijt, sealed the game for the Netherlands with five minutes to go. In a tight contest against Japan a Wesley Sneijder shot proved too hot to handle for Japanese keeper Eiji Kawashima and this gave the Dutch a narrow 1-0 win before they made sure of qualification in to the Round of Sixteen with a 2-1 win over Cameroon thanks to goals from Robin Van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
ROUND OF 16: v Slovakia 2-1
The Netherlands were pushed all the way by a determined Slovakia side and one could argue that Vladimir Weiss’s team should’ve done better with the number of chances they created against the Dutch. The difference between the two teams though was the better quality of finisher in the Dutch team and it was thanks to a superb strike from Arjen Robben that Netherlands took the lead after 18 minutes. Wesley Sneijder doubled the lead for the Dutch with six minutes left but the Slovaks did pull a stoppage-time goal back after Róbert Vittek converted from the spot having been brought down in the box. Victory had been hard-fought for the Dutch but their reward was a mouth watering tie against Brazil in the last eight.
QUARTER-FINAL: v Brazil 2-1
A classic come-from-behind performance from the Dutch as they progressed into the last four of the competition with victory over record champions Brazil. The Brazilians took the lead after just ten minutes through Robinho and the Seleção looked in total control throughout the first half. After the break the Dutch got back on equal terms when Wesley Sneijder’s cross troubled the Brazil defence and the ball went in off Felipe Melo. The pivotal moments of the game occurred within five minutes of each other with, firstly, the Dutch taking the lead in the 68th minute thanks to a Wesley Sneijder header from a Van Persie corner and, secondly, with the sending-off of Felipe Melo in the 73rd minute for a needless stamp on Arjen Robben to complete a terrible day for the Brazilian defender.
SEMI-FINAL: v Uruguay 3-2
Uruguay came into the semi-final after an amazing conclusion to their quarter-final match against Ghana against whom they ultimately progressed via a penalty shoot-out after Asamoah Gyan missed the chance to score from the penalty spot for the Africans in the last minute of extra-time. In the semi-final Gio Van Bronckhorst scored what will arguably go down as the goal of the tournament after just eighteen minutes to give Holland the lead but Uruguay’s talisman Diego Forlán equalized with four minutes of the half remaining. The second half tested the fingernails of many fans inside the stadium as even after Holland had gone 3-1 ahead after strikes from Sneijder (70 minutes) and Robben (73 minutes) the Uruguayans set up a grandstand finish when Maximiliano Pereira pulled one back in stoppage time. Sadly for Uruguay there wasn’t enough time to score a crucial equalizer and the Netherlands were the team celebrating a place at the FIFA World Cup final.
GROUP STAGE: v Switzerland 0-1; v Honduras 2-0; v Chile 2-1
The European champions were hoping for the perfect start to the Fifa World Cup but were denied by a compact, defensive Swiss team who ultimately gained victory thanks to a 52nd minute strike from Gelson Fernandes. The Swiss could’ve doubled their lead fifteen minutes from time but Eren Derdiyok hit the post with the goal at his mercy but Ottmar Hitzfeld’s men held out for a surprise win which meant that the Spanish had to win their next two games in order to qualify as group winners. The second game should’ve seen more goals for Spain but, in the end, they had to settle for the 2-0 win with both goals coming from a certain David Villa who would begin his goalscoring adventure in the World Cup. The final group game for La Roja was against South Americans Chile who had won their first two games of the tournament but who never really threatened the Spanish in their match-up. David Villa scored from long distance with the keeper off his line on 24 minutes and Andrés Iniesta doubled the lead after 37 minutes. Rodrigo Millar did pull one back for Chile just two minutes after the break but both teams seemed to be happy with the result in the final minutes of the game and it meant that both went through into the next round.
ROUND OF 16: v Portugal 1-0
This much anticipated clash of the giants didn’t quite provide us with the feast of football we were expecting and this was maybe in no small part down to Cristiano Ronaldo’s lacklustre performances throughout the whole tournament replicated in this game. It was to be David Villa once again who would provide the main highlight of the game as his first attempt at scoring in the 63rd minute was saved by Portugal’s keeper Eduardo only for the newly-signed FC Barcelona hitman to finally break the deadlock when his second effort went in off the underside of the bar. Portugal’s misery was confounded in the last minute when Ricardo Costa was unfairly sent-off for a non-foul on Joan Capdevila. Nonetheless the result was a fair one and a quarter-final against Paraguay awaited the European champions.
QUARTER-FINAL: v Paraguay 1-0
This extraordinary game fitted in with all of the other quarter-final matches in that there was so much to talk about after the game such was the amount of incident. After the first half had petered out as a goalless stalemate the second half began with a bang as Paraguay received a penalty in the 57th minute when Gerard Piqué brought down Óscar Cardozo. Sadly for Paraguay Cardozo missed his spot kick and then, two minutes later, saw their opponents receive a spot-kick of their own when Antolín Alcaraz brought down David Villa in the Paraguay penalty area. But, amazingly, Xabi Alonso had to re-take his successful penalty kick after the referee had seen encroaching which then allowed Paraguay keeper Justo Villar to keep out Alonso’s second effort. After all the drama both teams went for the winning goal but it was once again to be decided by a bit of predatory instinct from David Villa who guided the ball in off the post and into the net after Pedro’s initial effort had come to him from off the post. This gave Spain their first ever place at the Fifa World Cup semi-final stage.
SEMI-FINAL: v Germany 1-0
A repeat of the 2008 UEFA European Championship final and a similar scoreline gave the Spanish a place in the FIFA World Cup final for the first time in the nation’s history. Germany had been the best team of the tournament chalking up four goals in each of their knock-out round encounters en route to the last four. Having seen off England (4-1) and Argentina (4-0) perhaps the expectation finally weighted down Germany who never really got a grip in the match against Spain. The Spanish, normally so reliant on David Villa’s goals in this tournament, were ultimately grateful to defender Carles Puyol who rose highest from a Xavi corner in the 73rd minute to guide home a bullet header past the helpless Manuel Neuer in the German goal.