Tampa Bay Rowdies
Spanish, Dutch seek first World Cup title
JOHANNESBURG - The World Cup champions are an illustrious and exclusive bunch. Only seven countries belong, and just twice in the last 40 years have they welcomed anyone new. Well, start making way. Sunday, there's going to be another name on that list. Spain and the Netherlands are each seeking their first title in the World Cup final at Soccer City. The Dutch have had two cracks at it already, earning that dreaded "best team never to have won the World Cup" title after coming up short in 1974 and '78. Spain has had its own issues, underachieving at major tournaments for 44 long years before winning the European title two years ago. "The group deserves this, but we want more," star Spanish striker David Villa said. "We are happy to be in the final, that was our objective."But now we want to be champions." For all the hype about the South Americans and hope about the teams from Africa, the final will be a Europeans-only party for a second straight World Cup. Spain is the reigning European champion, the game's second-biggest title after the World Cup. It has lost two matches since November 2006, and its playing style bears a striking resemblance to club team Barcelona, which has run roughshod over just about everyone lately. When it's on, Spain is awe-inspiring. Its back line of Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila is more like a wall - and just try getting anything by goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Opponents know Spain's game is based on possession and flow, and good luck trying to disrupt that. When a team does, the Spanish are like a swarm of bees until they get it back. "I am sure the Spanish can win any game," said Germany coach Joachim Loew, whose team lost to Spain in the semifinals, "because they are dominant and it's hard to contain their attack." The Dutch aren't exactly slouches. They won all eight qualifying matches and are perfect in South Africa. Not since Pele's brilliant Brazil squad in 1970 has a squad had a chance at winning the World Cup with an unblemished record. "We play well," Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said. "Spain plays well, but they are more attractive and this is where we want to get, too." Neither has looked particularly flashy here. At times, in fact, both have been downright tough to watch. And yet, it's a final that could showcase everything that makes the World Cup so magical. And a final with only one certainty: the club of world champions is about to grow.