Spain and The Netherlands have earned the right to contest the 2010 World Cup final after a long, arduous slog that began almost two years ago, in September 2008. For the Spaniards, the qualification campaign was a case of start as you mean to go on with David Villa netting the only goal of the game as they edged out Bosnia-Herzegovina in Murcia.
The Dutch began their campaign in Skopje; John Heitinga and Rafael van der Vaart steered the Oranje to a narrow 2-1 win. Those games marked the competitive bows of a pair of new coaches to the international scene. Vicente Del Bosque took over the reins of the Spain team from the gnarled veteran, Luis Aragones, while Bert van Marwijk succeeded the intransigent Marco van Basten. They imposed their will on their respective sides quickly, steering them to 100 per cent qualification records.
Only a few months earlier the Spanish and the Dutch had lit up Euro 2008 with Spain breaking their long sequence of competition washouts by capturing the cup. Holland made waves with a brand of scintillating football that simply proved too much for the waning representat
ives of both Italy and France. While Spain soared the Dutch crashed and burned against Russia and were doomed to remain in the international wilderness; a place to which, like their World Cup adversaries, they had become accustomed.
A new generation| Vicente Del Bosque and Bert van Marwijk are breaking new ground
European Championship wins in 1964 and 1988, respectively, had been aberrations, of sorts, in both of these teams' tradition of failure and disappointment. The football world had become well acquainted with the tournament form of Spain and The Netherlands; bring a team of great players, conjure praise for standout displays and ultimately come up short. The run had gone on long enough for the Spanish and they showed the cojones to go all the way two years ago.
And now they are on the precipice of a new frontier. A first World Cup final. They have overcome one of this competition's best teams, Germany, to make it this far and are fulfilling their promise as one of the bookmakers' tips for the title. They have not always played with their usual delicate panache, perhaps leaning on the individual class of Villa more than they would have liked, but they are nonetheless in form after finally bringing their 'A-game' to the World Cup against Die Elf.
The Dutch have been here before, twice, during their golden period, but were consigned to the silver medal spot on both occasions despite the Total Football they purveyed. This Dutch side, under Van Marwijk, is certainly more pragmatic than its predecessors but there is a commonality between the final of 1978, the last time Holland were here, and this one. It was the last time that two teams which had never won the World Cup lined up against each other in the game's ultimate showpiece event.
A new name, now as then, will be etched on the trophy; the only surprise is how long it has taken for Spain, for the first time, and The Netherlands, for a third time, to earn that right.
The final of 2010 is truly a watershed moment as the hegemony of international football's very own 'Big Four' has been disturbed. Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Italy had comprised at least one half of the participants for every single World Cup final until now. It's a run that stretches back all the way to 1930 and marks a new dawn for a new decade.
Holland eliminated Brazil in the quarter-final after coming from behind, their first win over the South Americans at a World Cup since 1974, while Spain's win over Germany was notable for the determination, self-belief and assuredness in the performance.
Two of football's most patronised bridesmaids have finally caught the bouquet; now it's all about the race to the alter.