After nearly a month of drama, the World Cup pool has been whittled down to just two teams: Spain and the Netherlands. Despite coming into the tournament as a favorite, Spain has never played in a World Cup final before, while Holland last reached the championship round in 1978. The match promises to be a ferocious contest, and fascinating clash of styles — but which team will walk away with the coveted Jules Rimet trophy on Sunday?
The Dutch pioneered "total football" — the slick, tactical game that added beauty and intelligence to the sport in the 1970s, says Brian Phillips at Slate. But the only team playing with that degree of style in the 2010 World Cup is Spain. Its "tiki-taka soccer" — precise, short passes building up to a sudden attack — is "a similarly coherent, and similarly beautiful, approach to the game" the Dutch team played a generation ago. All fans of the beautiful game should be backing Spain.
Spain "do not have too much... to fear from the Dutch," says former England captain Gary Lineker at BBC Sport. Good tactics and team spirit have taken Holland this far, but their "defenders and goalkeepers" are not world-class. If Spain's talented midfielders can marshal a decent attack, expect the Iberians to "come out on top."
Paul the Octopus, the supposedly psychic cephalopod who has correctly predicted the winner of all six of Germany's matches, has also predicted Spain as the likely winner of Sunday's game. Paul's latest prophecy has Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero concerned for the oracular creature's life. "I'm thinking about sending in a team to protect the octopus," he said. (Watch Paul the octopus make his pick)
Unlike Spain, the Dutch have won every game they've played in this World Cup, says Doug Webb at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Their "ruthless efficiency" may be too much for the inconsistent Spanish team, whose main approach so far has been "preventing their opponents from amassing goals." Holland play the "right way," and should prevail on Sunday.
Holland's success has been down to hard work, not inherent skill, says Nigel Reed at CBC. The players' work rate is the equal of any squad in this championship, and coach Bert van Marwijk has shaped a team with the ability to do the "necessary dirty work" to grind out a win in every game. "While flair catches the eye, steel allows it to flourish." This tough Dutch team may prove too aggressive for the Spaniards.
Holland has reaped a prediction from another seemingly clairvoyant member of the animal kingdom. Mani the parakeet successfully picked the winner of all four quarter-final games, and predicts Holland will lift the trophy on Sunday afternoon. "This situation recalls the timeless question," says Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair. "Who is more trustworthy, a psychic parakeet or a psychic octopus?"