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How to Stop Them? (Part 2/2)

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In the first part of this series, It has been explained deeply and in great detail about the possible ways that Spain could stop Holland in the World Cup 2010 final. Therefore, before I am being suspected of a staunch Spanish supporter or even a Spanish writer, I will now go through again in this second part about the possible ways and strategies that could be employed by Holland to stop the Spanish Armada from reaching the biggest treasure of them all in world football, the World Cup Trophy. There are several sides and aspects of how Holland could curb Spain en route to victory and to the trophy, namely winning the team battle on the pitch, winning the individual battles among individual players from both sides, and also the crucial and yet most underrated and unnoticed, the psychological battle on and off the pitch, especially the former during the 90 minutes or even 120 minutes of intense football.

The first aspect is of course the general battle between the two teams, culminating in scoring the necessary goals to wrap the game up before it could drag on to Extra Time and even the dreaded and much criticized penalty shoot-outs. Since that opening day defeat against Switzerland, Spain seems to have slowed down on their mesmerizing pass and move, or Barcelonaesque football if you like. They become somewhat a rigid and cautious unit and are not really hungry to inflict a bucketload of goals on the opponents, unlike their semi-final opponents, Germany. They have become so efficient as they grind 1-0 after 1-0 of results, which is not really what fans and pundits had hoped prior to the World Cup, but those are the kind of result which Jose Mourinho proudly and cockily would comment, “1-0? I don’t care, we won!” and rightly so as Germany for all of their flashy football are consigned to competing in the low morale and infamous 3rd place play-off while efficient and pragmatic Spain are in the Final. If that is not enough, Carles Puyol’s goal against Germany (only goal of the game of course) was dubbed by plenty of pundits as a “typical Bolton Wanderers goal”. That’s another example of “Mourinho Effect” (hopefully I could write about this in depth in the near future) and also yet another sad example of Joga Bonito losing its life force steadily but surely to be replaced by pragmatic, catenaccio football. Welcome back 1960s, and Helenio Herrera would be shaking in delight in his grave as catenaccio makes a glorious comeback.

Alright, the point of the lengthy explanation above regarding the somewhat newfound playing habit of Spain was actually resulted in the aforementioned opening day defeat against Switzerland, in which their flashy football was thwarted in an efficient fashion with resolute defending and the Swiss simply ground a somewhat messy but no less than a 1-0 victory. Since then, especially during the knockout stages, Spain have knocked one team after another all with a 1-0 victory. Call them a squad of Megaman (for those who don’t know, he’s a robot who is able to copy and utilize his enemies’ weapons) if you like, but they are playing to grind efficient 1-0 victory, and yeah, even if people want to argue that had Pedro passed the ball to Fernando Torres, they would have won 2-0 and not 1-0 all the way to the final, but yeah. Thus, since the opening day defeat of Switzerland, Spain have yet to concede a goal (except for that 2-1 match against Chile) and in any case they have yet to find themselves trailing their opponents in a match since Gelson Fernandes’ winning goal in the opening match against Switzerland.

Therefore, what the Dutch should do is not to hold out themselves in search of a 1-0 win as Spain is most likely to be the team that gets the 1 winning goal and game over Holland. The Dutch have to take the Spaniards back all the way to the opening Group H meeting with Switzerland, and they have to do what Gelson Fernandes did to the Spaniards, score an early goal which would certainly put the Spanish players in a shell-shocked mode. After that 1 goal, the Spaniards are likely to panic and this would jolt their natural attacking instincts and just start playing their Joga Bonito game in their desperate attempt to equalize and save the game, it’s Switzerland all over again. However, the Dutch, with Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, the in form Golden Boot chasing Wesley Sneijder, and even van Persie have more than enough to quality to strike the heart of Spain’s defense directly at the jugular, unlike the Swiss who really hung on to dear life with their staunch defending.

Of course, to score that early goal is not an easy task. Holland is up against the European Champions, a team which is scarily almost a hybrid of Barcelona and Real Madrid, almost a La Liga Selection Squad, augmented by other world class players such as Fernando Torres and Fabregas (who might well come home to Barcelona soon). Thus, as mentioned early on, the Dutch have to win their individual battles against the Spanish players. In the previous part, I pointed out Mark van Bommel as the weak link in the Dutch squad and might become their answer to Felipe Melo at anytime if the Spaniards are as crafty as the Dutch in their match against Brazil. However, we must not underestimate his importance in the match-up against Spain. Looking at the Holland midfield and defense consisting of players such as Nigel de Jong, van Bommel, van der Wiel, and Johnny Heitinga up against players such as Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Iniesta, and Pedro, you have to start thinking that it is just like a battle between Toms and Jerries. To stop the pint sized, speedy, and elusive Spanish midfielders from wreaking havoc and inflict damages to Holland, the Dutch need to really make the physical advantage that they have count to the last nanometer of their difference in height and build. Nigel de Jong and van Bommel together with the backline have to really use their physical superiority to stop them in their tracks, and if necessarily get a little rough with them. Heck with the yellow cards, as long as it’s not red, and the small sized Spaniards are stopped, Holland have won three-quarters of the battle, and the only thing left is to finish off Spain by scoring a goal or two for good measure.

Another area which the Dutch must really pay attention to, especially if they fail to break the duck during the first half and/or up to 60th minute, they really have to find a way to stop the movements of David Villa and Fernando Torres (if the latter is playing). Despite many fans and pundits criticizing Fernando Torres to no end, even as far as calling him Samson as they claim that he has become useless after having a haircut. But I assure the world that Torres had done this before during his Atletico Madrid years in which he was sporting an identical hairdo as Juan Sebastian Veron and Stone Cold Steve Austin and I assure you he was still good with that hairdo. In the actual fact, Torres played a huge role in Spain’s charge to the final, especially their charge to the semi-finals (as he didn’t play vs Germany). The sharper ones among us have observed that during the knockout stages, David Villa has been scoring in those 1-0 victories, and he did not score in the semi finals against Germany. Why? Torres played in the previous matches but he did not play against Germany as mentioned. Even if he does not score any goals in this tournament, he has undoubtedly played a huge role for his team, and for their sake, I really hope a Villa-Torres pairing will be restored in the final. But yeah, this is about stopping Spain, and so, the role of Torres has actually been that of a decoy. He simply sacrifices hmself to make off the ball runs around the opponents’ penalty area and players of his stature cannot be ignored by the opposing defense and they will commit men to mark him. This will undoubtedly free up space for David Villa to score.

Thus, assuming that those two play in tandem for Spain in the final, the Dutch will have to keep in mind never to over-commit their defensive manpower to just handle Torres alone as Villa is lurking around the penalty box himself, ready to pounce to any chances coming his way, or half chances for that matter to be converted into deadly goals. If possible they should close down the Spaniards as often as possible, even if this is a stamina wasting strategy, but letting Villa, Torres, Xavi, Iniesta et al. to roam freely is simply suicidal. Even during set pieces, extra attention have to be given to defenders such as Puyol and Pique from doing damage with their heads just like how the Germans found out to their cost and also they have to be careful with Sergio Ramos’ deadly forwards runs and if possible to launch counterattacks through that flank. Especially with the aforementioned closing down strategy, the Dutch will have to find a way to conserve their stamina carefully, considering how they always deflate towards the end of the match as mentioned in Part I and that Spain is a team with plenty of explosive talents on the bench, such as Fabregas, Jesus Navas, and David Silva just to name three ready to destroy the surely tired Dutch defense at the point of their fresh introduction into the fray.

Lastly, it is certainly going to be the psychological aspect of the game. Like I said earlier, a glance at the Spanish squad list would send chills down anyone’s spine, with glittering players plying their trade at the very best clubs. Plethora of world class talents in which 23 man slots seem to be unfair for a country with such an array of talents as many more of the world class talents such as Marcos Senna and Santi Cazorla are left out of the squad. This is truly the very best team in the world on paper at least! However, the Dutch must not have those words that I have just written in their minds. They have to clear their mind about how Spain is composed of players from Real Madrid, Barcelona, best teams blah blah, but they really have to believe that they are in the final against Spain, they are not any weaker than Spain, and that they are the best. Bert van Marwijk must simply show his motivational skills here and embed that in the players’ minds while trying his best to erase any traces of inferiority complex in the squad. Jose Mourinho has done it, yes he’s such an impactful manager, single-handedly resurrected catenaccio football, depose the long heralded 4-4-2 all the way to the dustbin and make 4-5-1 and its derivatives the new winning formula, as well as totally redefining the word “confidence”. He has done it with Inter as they totally stopped Barcelona from playing and simply defeat them over two legs in the Champions League en route to their historic Treble Winning season. Bert van Marwijk must do the same and psyche his squad up. Perhaps Wesley Sneijder could be of great help as he was part of that historic Inter team.

In any case, even though it doesn’t really promise to be a match flooding with goals, and that both teams will cancel each other with their own ways and wits to stop each other (just like if you read Part I and II of this series in a row, everything will cancel out), it promises to be explosive, to be a final to remember, and as sad as it could be, the World Cup is ending, let us savor the last 180 minutes of football at the very least that is left (along with the 3rd place playoff between Germany and Uruguay) and simply enjoy the moment and the World Cup Spirit, and until the competition arrives again in four years’ time in Brazil.

Written by cp

09/07/2010 at 20:12

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