Goal.com's KS Leong outlines five ways La Furia Roja can take down the Oranje.
It’s a clash between the pioneers and the modern interpreters of Total Football: Netherlands vs Spain.
The two World Cup finalists were expected to dazzle fans around the globe with their own brand of attractive football, but neither side have really been allowed to express themselves on the pitch throughout the tournament for one reason or another.
But now, Johannesburg and the 2010 World Cup final gives the two perennial underachievers a chance to battle it out style for style. The Dutch could be ready to turn to the dark side of ugly football to win, but Spain must stay true to their style to prevail.
1. Possession, Possession, Possession
The Netherlands are a side who love to have as much of the ball as the Spaniards, and they like to keep it on the ground and just keep the game moving at their pace. It’s when they’re not in possession of the ball that their weaknesses are exposed.
Against Brazil in the quarter-finals, the Oranje were chasing shadows for much of the first half before a few significant tweaks at the interval saw them return to their deadly best in the second period. And Spain have to make sure that they do not give Bert van Marwijk’s side a sniff of control.
The Spaniards are the masters of keeping the ball, but against Chile in the final group game, they were completely outplayed and overpowered in the first half by the fiery, uncompromising South Americans, despite scoring twice. Vicente del Bosque’s troops have to be aware that although they are the best at keeping possession, and they perform at their best when they keep possession, they cannot take it for granted. If the Dutch come out all guns blazing from the opening whistle, then it will be the men in orange who will be in charge of the ball and the game. Giving the Dutch as little time as possible on the ball will also minimize the threat from counter-attacks.
2. Deprive Wesley Sneijder & Arjen Robben Of The Ball
The Netherlands have admitted from day one that they are prepared to play ugly if necessary in order to win the World Cup. And winger Arjen Robben has come out pre-final to reiterate their point. This would suggest that they are ready to take a defensive stance against the Spaniards and hit their opponents on the break.
But Vicente del Bosque’s men are more than familiar with this kind of approach from the opposition, having been forced to cope with such tactics in each of their last six games in South Africa. And they passed the test with flying colors in the semi-final against the most fearsome of those counter-attacking threats, Germany, and they did so by neutralizing Mesut Oezil and Bastian Schweinsteiger. That is what Sergio Busquets, Joan Capdevila and co. have to do with Sneijder and Robben in the final.
3. Keep Fernando Torres On The Bench
Spain looked almost a completely different side against Germany when Fernando Torres was benched and a vibrant – albeit slightly inexperienced – Pedro Rodriguez took his place in the starting line-up.
Without ‘El Nino’, the European champions were able to exploit the full width of the pitch and quicken the pace of their passing game as they were no longer handicapped by playing with what was essentially one man short.
Coach Vicente del Bosque has admitted that as of Friday’s training session, he is still unsure whether to keep Torres on the bench and retain Pedro in the first XI. Both choices have their own flaws, but if La Roja want to keep the game brisk and wear down the Dutch, then Torres needs to be dropped; if not for Pedro then for Fernando Llorente, David Silva, Jesus Navas or Cesc Fabregas.
4. Stay Away From Van Bommel
The midfield hardman has been almost invincible in South Africa, not so much because of his flawless performances, but because he has been near un-bookable. The Bayern Munich destroyer has committed a fair number of rash, awful tackles but he has only ever been booked once: in the final minutes of the semi-final win over Uruguay... for talking back to the referee.
If he continues to escape unpunished for his reckless challenges in the final, then Spain may find it difficult to play their normal fluent passing game. To avoid that happening, La Roja’s midfield maestros will have to keep the ball moving around at speed and force van Bommel to chase shadows for 90 minutes.
On the other hand, if MvB gets a yellow card early on in the game, then it may be wise for the Spaniards to keep attacking him for the rest of the contest to force a red. A personal duel with his former club-mate Xavi could prove intriguing.
5. Get Bodies In The Box
Spain have been criticized at this World Cup for not having the decisive penetration inside the opposition area, where all their lovely tiki-taka passing football goes to waste because there’s no one inside the box to finish off a free-flowing move. This has a lot to do with the fact that their opponents barricade the goal with multiple lines of defenders, forcing the Spanish forwards to either drop deep or drift out wide to look for the ball. But it also has a lot to do with the fact that when Fernando Torres is taken out of the equation – whether he’s being benched or he simply can’t perform when he’s out on the pitch – La Roja do not really have a target striker.
This is a Catch-22 for coach del Bosque. If he deploys David Villa as the lead front man, then the team will lose an attacking outlet wide left. If opts to start Fernando Llorente as a straight swap for Torres, then he will have to sacrifice one of his midfield pieces.
One way or the other, the coach has to find a remedy for this. Have the versatile Gerard Pique bombard into the area every now and again, or just get Sergio Busquets to dart into the 18-yard box to make a nuisance of himself. Whatever the case, Spain must get bodies into the danger zone so that the likes of Sergio Ramos, Xavi and Andres Iniesta will have targets to aim for with their crosses and through balls.