By 5 p.m. Sunday, one country’s people will flood their streets in celebration. They’ll dance, they’ll sing, they’ll cry and they’ll kiss strangers.
The next day, a moment frozen in time for a generation of football fans, will be declared a national holiday and the subsequent booze, oh god, will it flow. For the other side, those who came up one step too short, it will be nothing but handshakes and heartache. The longest day in a hard look down the four-year road to Brazil.
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Considering the level of play we’ve been treated to during this tournament, it’s exciting to be heading into the final between Spain and the Netherlands with both sides yet to find their best game.
Spain, for all its attacking glory, has looked rather impotent. David Villa has risen to the occasion when called upon, but the likes of Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas have all failed to find their form. But with a smothering backline, they’ve done just enough to win, railing off a string of 1-0 victories through the elimination rounds.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands, despite the play of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder — who for my money have been the best players at this tournament — has looked anything but certain in the final moments of games. They allowed Uruguay a glimmer of hope in extra time in the semis, and who wasn’t expecting Brazil to tie it in the quarters as the Dutch conceded corner after corner down the stretch? To their credit though, they haven’t stumbled, finding a way to win every game.
Being the resident football fan, I’m often pressed for predictions. But with even the lowliest countries at this tournament showing an ability to touch glory, I’ve mostly left the prognostications up to Paul the Psychic Octopus (he hasn’t been wrong yet.)
The final is different though. The immense pressure of a nation’s hopes brings out the best and worst in players. Think Ronaldo’s masterful performance for Brazil in 2002 and Zinedine Zidane disastrous exit for France in 2006. Results lie in calm minds and consistency.
This weekend, I’ll be betting on the steady hand of Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk to bring about a return to the total football of the 1970s. Come Sunday it will be all Dutch Dreams.