WORLD CUP 2010: CAN THE DUTCH SHUT DOWN SPAIN?
Highlights – Spain 1-0 Germany
By Lee Dixon
It is going to be very difficult for the Netherlands to stop Spain in Sunday's World Cup final in Johnannesburg.
I was hugely impressed by Spain in their semi-final, not only the way they kept the ball against Germany but also how they pressed them so high up the pitch. That tactic is likely to bring them more success against the Dutch.
A lot of the Netherlands' hopes rest on how much their two holding midfielders, Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, can get involved and break up Spain's attacks.
But they could probably do with having another couple of men sitting in front of their back four to try to stop the Spanish passing the ball in the way that they do!
In fact, the most important thing Van Bommel and De Jong can do is try to make sure they keep the ball when they do eventually get hold of it because, if they do give it away, they are not going to get it back for another five minutes.
The way the Spanish play, with no set formation, is so difficult to defend against. They can all go where they want and, if they find a space, they stay there. All of their players are very intelligent with their movement.
Many of the five goals that David Villa has scored for them in this tournament have come when he starts out on the left and drifts inside.
From the point of view of the Dutch right-back Gregory van der Wiel, it is difficult to stop him. Villa is a striker, so he always wants to end up in the box, but Van der Wiel will not just be able to follow him everywhere he goes.
When the ball is on the opposite flank, Villa will try to drop into the little gap in front of Van der Wiel and run at the centre-backs on their blind-side. All full-backs fall asleep at times and we know what a good finisher Villa is if he gets an opportunity.
When you look at the heart of the Netherlands backline, Johnny Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen are not the strongest and, although Van der Wiel and Giovanni van Bronckhorst are effective at getting forwards, they can definitely be got at defensively too.
Whether it is Fernando Torres, Pedro or even Cesc Fabregas who plays alongside or behind Villa, they will get chances, so I think the Dutch will have to score at least two goals to win.
In order for that to happen, the Netherlands are going to have to play a lot better than they have done before now in South Africa and hope that Spain don't perform as well as they did in their semi-final.
I still don't think we have seen the best of the Dutch and they seem very functional at times.
Their stand-out players have been Wesley Sneijder, who also has five goals, and Arjen Robben, who has also found some form. Robin van Persie has been a lot quieter than I expected him to be at this World Cup but all three of them will need to have big games in the final.
The difficulty Van Persie will have is that Spain's two centre-backs, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, look pretty much on their game.
I'm not so keen on Joan Capdevila at left-back but as a back four they appear to be pretty solid, so a lot will depend on Sneijder and whether he has any joy.
He seems to have a similar role to Germany's Mesut Ozil in that he has a lot of freedom and will try to find a hole between the Spanish midfield and defence to operate in.
But if Spain play one up front and flood their midfield, they will be able to allow one of their holding midfielders, Xabi Alonso or Sergio Busquets, to drop in and pick Sneijders up.
Basically, every time I look at a possible way that the Dutch might threaten, I look at Spain and think that I cannot really see them allowing them to do that. All I can see is a Spanish win.
Scoring the first goal might help, and Switzerland showed in Spain's first match of this tournament that it is possible to beat them, but this is a different sort of match altogether.
In a group game you score first and you relax, while in a final, you go ahead and all of a sudden you think 'we have got a chance of winning this' and sometimes you can stop doing the things that got you the goal.
The Dutch are certainly capable of scoring but, if they do, they cannot afford to start dropping off and leaving the Spaniards more space – they must continue to close them down, otherwise Spain will pick them off.