Worthy finalists set for entertaining clash


Just a month ago, 32 countries began their quest for one coveted prize a nation can claim only once every four years in the game of soccer.

Now, two teams are left standing, as Spain and the Netherlands battle for the crown today in a highly anticipated showdown featuring sides in search of their first World Cup championship.

The two world powers square off in the finale at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, in what should go down as a classic.

Spain enters the match ranked second in the latest FIFA world soccer poll, while the Netherlands is fourth.

The Netherlands has pretty much cruised to the final behind the play of standouts Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. The Dutch possess a dangerous offensive attack, racking up 12 goals, and have been relentless in the opposition's defensive third.

Sneijder has been the offensive catalyst for the Netherlands, scoring five goals.

Another bonus for the Dutch is the fact they have been able to get goals from others and haven't had to rely on Sneijder's magical feet for production.

Spain got off to a rocky start at the World Cup, falling to Switzerland 1-0 in its opener. But La Furia Roja has been brilliant since, rolling up a 5-0 record and conceding just one goal in those matches.

Perhaps Spain's best effort was its most recent in a 1-0 semifinal victory against a talented Germany team that looked unstoppable in its 4-0 thrashing of Argentina in the quarterfinals.

Many thought Germany would give Spain a better match -- and even pull off the victory. But Spain outshot Germany 16-6, a shocking statistic considering how Germany's offense pretty much was having its way with its foes.

One concern Spain should have is finding someone to help star David Villa, who has a team-high five goals, in the scoring column. Look for Xavi and Andres Iniesta to be heavily involved, as the Spanish will look to control the time of possession and game in the middle of the pitch.

■ NOTABLE -- Spain has racked up the most World Cup wins of any country in its history that hasn't brought home the title. The Dutch have the second most. ... Spain has a bit of history working against it, as no country has dropped its opening match and went on to win the World Cup. ... The Dutch have played in the finale twice, falling in 1974 and 1978. Spain never has played in the title match. ... This will be the first meeting between the countries in World Cup play. They have met nine times overall, with the series 4-4-1.

■ PREDICTION -- Spain 1, the Netherlands 1 (Spain wins 4-3 on penalty kicks).

Yes, this one is going to a shootout to decide the champion. The Spaniards take the penalty-kick phase of the match behind Villa and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

 

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