World Cup fame looms for Dutch or Spain

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JOHANNESBURG: The World Cup winners club will enrol a new member on Sunday whatever the outcome of the Soccer City final between European heavyweights Netherlands and Spain.

Netherlands lost consecutive finals to hosts West Germany and Argentina three decades ago while Spain are appearing in the international football showpiece climax for the first time.

Brazil (five titles), Italy (four), Germany (three), Argentina and Uruguay (two each), England and France have lifted a trophy that symbolizes national team supremacy.

While few pundits predicted a month ago that these countries would make the decider, Spain are rated second in the world behind Brazil and Netherlands fourth behind Portugal and the rankings are a good general guide.

Spain start favorites on the back of an impressive semi-final triumph over Germany but few dismiss a Dutch team that came from behind to eliminate record five-time champions Brazil at the last-eight stage.

Perhaps the biggest surprise ahead of a match that will attract a sell-out 90,000 crowd and a worldwide television audience is that the countries have never clashed before in the tournament.

But the adversaries know each other well as the Spanish side is built around the stars of Barcelona and Real Madrid while European club champions Inter Milan of Italy are among the suppliers of talent to the Dutch.

Think of Spain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, defender Sergio Ramos, midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta and striker David Villa immediately spring to mind.

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres was on that list pre-South Africa but after failing to score in five starts, was dropped for the Durban showdown against Germany.

Villa, a 40-million-euro close-season Barcelona signing from Valencia, has been the chief source of goals, bagging five to make him joint leading scorer in the tournament with Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder.

The other two goals have come from Iniesta and veteran mop-haired defender Carles Puyol, who darted forward to send an unstoppable header into the German net with 17 minutes left to break the semi-final stalemate.

It was the third consecutive 1-0 victory for Spain after ousting Portugal and Paraguay. A shock opening-match loss to Switzerland in the group stage was followed by victories against Honduras and Chile.

Netherlands have been far more prolific scorers, claiming 12 goals for an average of two per game while Spain with seven have managed just over one per outing.

Arsenal striker Robin van Persie and Bayern Munich midfielder Arjen Robben were expected to be the leading Dutch scorers in South Africa, but Inter midfielder Sneijder has stolen a march by netting five times.

His achievement has not gone unnoticed with Manchester United expressing interest although the Dutch star stays he is happy at San Siro and has no intention of changing his work address to Old Trafford.

He and Robben swung the semi-final against surprise packets Uruguay by scoring within four minutes in a 3-2 victory that was more emphatic than the score suggests.

Other Dutch scorers include captain and leftback Giovanni van Bronckhorst, whose long range thunderbolt that flew into the roof of the net is certain to be a candidate for goal of the tournament.

After opening with a 2-0 victory over Denmark, the Dutch defeated Japan, Cameroon, Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay by one-goal margins to qualify for the match every footballer dreams of being involved in.




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