By Ben Efe
It is the final of the 2010 World Cup and there is no Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina traditional global soccer powers in the mix. Rather two teams regarded as underachievers of world football are staring each other face to face at the Soccer City Johannesburg.
Todayâ€™s final is the best Spain have ever had in the 78 year-old history of the World Cup. For Holland who have been dubbed nearly-men of the World Cup this is the moment to shake off that tag and win it for once.
Spain made their debut appearance in the second edition of the 1934 World Cup in Italy. They got to the quarterfinal, where they played 1-1 with the hosts, because there was no shoot-out then the game was replayed the next day, Italy won and Spain was on their way home.
And then in 1950 Brazil, they posted their best ever performance before todayâ€™s final and that was a fourth finish after they lost to Sweden 3-1. The 1962, â€˜66 and â€˜78 editions saw Spain bowing out in the first round.
When they hosted the World Cup in 1982, Spain made a second round exit, after losing to Germany 2-1 much to chagrin of their fans. Spain compensated for that early exit at Mexico â€˜86 with a quarter-final finish, they lost to Belgium on 5-4 penalties.
At Italiaâ€™90, the Spaniards slumped in form, as they were edged out in the second round , but in USAâ€™94 they fought their way to the quarter final losing to Italy 2-1.
At France â€˜98 Spain crashed out in the first round rather disgracefully. In their first match they led Nigeria 2-1, but a sensational comeback by the Eagles with by Sunday Oliseh and Garuba Lawal put Spain on a nose dive in their next game against Paraguay, it ended 0-0. Spain went on to crush Bulgaria 6-1 with Fernando Morientes and Kiko scoring a brace, but it was a little too late for them that result could not launch them into the second round.
Spain was one of the top teams for 2002 Japan/Korea tournament. And they proved it by topping theirÂ group featuringÂ Paraguay, Slovenia and South Africa. They played a sensation second round game against Ireland, it ended in a Shoot-out with Spain outscoring the Irish 3-2. They met hosts South Korea in the quarter final. Spain had two goals disallowed during regulation time, they went on to lose out on a 5-3 shoot-out.
Spain were back fishing again at Germany 2006. They won all their group games beating Ukraine 4-0, Tunisia 3-1 and Saudi Arabia 1-0. But in the round of 16 they were overrun by France 3-1. Fernando Torres and David Villa were the leading scorers for Spain, with three goals apiece.
Overall Spain has appeared in 49 games in the World Cup Finals, their record is 22 wins, 15 losses and 12 draws.
Inconsistency is the hallmark of Holland in the World Cup. They made their debut in1934 and were sent packing in their first round, by Switzerland with a 3-2 defeat. In France 1938, the Dutch suffered the same fate as they were cruelly eliminated by Yugoslavia 3-0. The match was goalless during regulation time.
And the Dutch took a long absence from the World Cup till the 1974 finals in West Germany. They took the world by storm with their brand of â€˜total footballâ€™, players like Johan Cryuff speared headed the Dutch onslaught. In the group stages they beat Uruguay 2-0, drew with Sweden and hammered Bulgaria 4-1. In the second group stage the Dutch destroyed Argentina 4-0, beat East Germany 2-0 and then beat world champions Brazil by the same score-line, to set up a final against the hosts.
The Dutch were off with s sensational start when they won a penalty in the first minute of the game. They pinned down the German with their passing game, but somehow the Dutch couldnâ€™t hold on to their lead, they allow the Germans back into the game and by the dying minutes of the first half, the Germans were leading 2-1.
Cruyff summed up the Dutch frustration thus: The World Cup in 1974 made Dutch football famous â€“ and we lost! So losing the final, is it so bad? We were more famous than ever for losing, because everyone said we should have wonâ€
The Dutch were back for more in Argentina 1978, but without Cruyff who stayed back due to person reason. They left no one in doubt that their exploits four years earlier was not a fluke by going all the way to the final only to lose the hosts 3-1.
Netherlands failed to qualify for the 1982 and â€˜86 final. At Italia 90 they reached the second round despite parading stars like Ronald Koeman, Ruud Guilit,Â Frank Rijkaard and top striker Marco Van Basten, all who helped the Dutch to a famous win at the final of the Euro Championship in 1988.
In Italy they had a rough ride in the group stage drawing all their games. 1-1 with Egypt, 0-0 with England and 1-1 with Ireland. But the Netherlands went through to the knockouts. Unfortunately rivals West Germany were waiting in the Round of 16, and â€“ just like in 1974 â€“ the Netherlands lost 2-1.
At USAâ€™94 veterans Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard were still around. New blood in the squad included the De Boer twins Frank and Ronaldo, and the new main man up front for the Netherlands was 25 year old Inter striker Dennis Bergkamp.
The Netherlands finished top with six points in their group they beat Ireland 2-0 in the second round to set up a quarter-final date with Brazil, it was an interesting game, which was settled in 81st minute after both sides were level at 2-2, Brazil won thanks to long range effort from Branco which flew past Ed De Goey like a bullet.
At France â€˜98 Dennis Bergkamp,Â the De Boers brothers, and new squad members like Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf formed the team under coachÂ Guus Hiddink. The Dutch scrape through the group prelims with a 0-0 draw against Paraguay, 5-0 thumping of South Korea and a 2-2 draw with Mexico.
They played against Yugoslavia in the second round and won 2-1, Argentina was up next in the quarterfinal, the Dutch snatched a last minute winner after the game was tied at 1-1 till 89thÂ minute when Berkamp stylishly finished. Brazil stopped the Dutch in the semi-final after a shoot-out when the game ended 1-1 during regulation time. Netherlands finished fourth having lost the third place match against Yugoslavia.
Incredibly, the Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. But were back and ready for action in 2006, with former striker Marco van Basten in charge. The squad also featured the talentsÂ winger Arjen Robben, hard working Dirk Kuyt, bullet footed midfielder Wesley Sneijder.
Netherlands qualified in second place with seven points thanks to a 1-0 win over Serbia & Montenegro, a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast, and a 0-0 draw against Argentina. However, they lost to 1-0Â Portugal in the second round in the game tagged the battle ofÂ of Nuremberg, Russian referee Valentin Ivanov showed 16 yellow cards in this game, four of which resulted in red cards. A new FIFA record. The Netherlands received seven of those yellows, and red cards for Khalid Boulahrouz and Gio van Bronckhorst.
Overall record at finals: Played 36, Won 16, Drawn 10, Lost 10.