From absorbing the press hype prior to the World Cup final it would seem that either Spain has already won or that the Dutch are one of the weakest teams to make the final. If Spain are over looking the Dutch they are making a huge mistake. The Dutch have won every game they have played in the tournament and have often done so through grit, determination, and at times individual brilliance. Spain have not played a better side this tournament.
In a previous post I slagged off Spain -- in a slightly over the top and provocative way -- for boring stifling play - i.e. they use possession to stifle not to open up their opponents and create chances. Whether one loves or hates Spain's style, I think it is worth noting that they have been playing on a bit of a knifes edge throughout the tournament and the bounces have largely gone their way. Against Germany, Ramos could have been called for a penalty for clipping Ozil's heels in the box. Against Paraguay they could have easily fallen behind both on a correct, but marginal, offside decision and as a result of a penalty that was saved. Roque Santa Cruz also nearly equalized at the death. And against Portugal, while Spain again dominated possession, Portugal created some dangerous chances on the break and looked a bit vulnerable during Portugal's late flourish. This is not to say that Spain didn't "deserve" to win each of these games -- but winning by such small margins (no team has scored fewer goals and gotten to the World Cup final) is always a dangerous way of winning.
Furthermore, I think the Dutch have a better chance than any of these previous teams did against Spain. While Germany looked poor against Spain, the major problem for Germany was that they attack as a unit and are dependent on collective interplay, something that Spain through there high swarming defensive pressure were able to stymie. Missing Muller, the Germans were much less dynamic and were stymied by Spain's team defending and by Busquets's man-marking of their playmaker Ozil. With the Spanish doing well to close down space and passing lanes, the Germans simply lacked the individual talent to really take on and beat defenders.
But there are two things that make the Dutch a more dangerous proposition for Spain.
1. The Dutch have more talented and dangerous individuals. It seems that everyone has forgotten how many great and dynamic players the Dutch have. The Dutch attackers are much more individually talented than the Germans. With Schneider, Van Persie, Robben, and Kuyt (not to mention Van der Vaart, Ellia, and Huntelar on the bench) the Dutch are explosive going forward.
Without Muller the Germans rarely challenged Capdivilla, Spain's slow left back, with Robben on the right this is a match up the Dutch will need to exploit. Furthermore, Van Persie playing as the lone striker poses a much stronger challenge to the Spanish backline than Klose. While Klose is a fantastic goal scorer, he is dependent on the team to create chances for him -- something Spain was able to largely stifle. Van Persie can create chances on his own and is capable of individual brilliance.
On the left Dirk Kuyt will likely start. And as a solid two-way player, Kuyt and Ramos should neutralize each other on that wing. However, one could also see Elia come on to provide pace and to try to get in behind Ramos. Elia is one of the best young players out there and was tipped to have a big World Cup, but he has struggled to get on the field. If the Dutch go down, he will likely see the field.
2. The Dutch midfield will get stuck in. One of the shocking things about the Spain-Germany game was how few fouls the Germans committed on the Spanish midfield players. There were very few free kicks given throughout the game. Schweinsteiger and Khedira mainly sought to contain Xavi and co. but rarely sought to get physical and break up the play. This is part of the reason why the German counterattack was missing, the Germans rarely created turnovers -- which are vital to launching counter-attacks. Yes much of that was due to Spain's quality on the ball, but I would expect with the ex-Barca man Mark Van Bommell and the at times reckless Nigel De Jong (the guy who broke Stuart Holden's leg) playing in the midfield to see many more bone crunching challenges and a general effort to prevent Xavi from really running the game. This promises to be a much chippier game than Spain has likely faced to this point. Against Brazil, the Dutch showed that they can battle and I would expect a Dutch approach that in some ways resembles how Premier league teams approach Arsenal -- get physical and put in a challenge. The Dutch were no doubt happy that an English referee was awarded the final.
Of course, where this game gets enticing is that the Dutch backline is no where near as solid as Germany's and the Dutch have been prone to leak goals throughout the tournament. This creates a tactical dilemma for Van Marwijk, the Dutch coach. The Germans essentially followed the USA model for beating Spain -- a model that was used by Switzerland and every other team thus far. Sit back, clog the middle, defend as a team, and hope to counter. Yet Spain's team defending have made them difficult to counter against and the Dutch may not have the solidity and strength in the backline to sit back and absorb pressure. That's why I would expect higher more aggressive pressure from the midfielders, with the Dutch fullbacks tucking in and staying back defensively to help cope with the pressure that gets through. This will likely be a much chippier game and the sketchy (all Spurs fans hate him) Howard Webb may have his hands full.