Group B, Match 1
The first rule about Fight Club Pt. II? Talk about Fight Club Pt. II: a game between two of the more attack-minded teams that could quite conceivably be a World Cup final-in-waiting, even if this group's top two face Brazil's group qualifiers in the second round.
Last time, the Netherlands attempted to thwart Spain's technically superior attacking guile with physicality, most notably Nigel de Jong clattering into Xabi Alonso with a fearsome chest-high challenge in the game's early salvos. Howard Webb somehow neglected to wave a red card.
Four years on, and with Holland defeated that night, the balance has shifted a little. The ageing Iniesta-Xavi midfield axis has less impetus than in previous years, though it still possesses superior safe-cracking credentials over most.
Meanwhile, Holland manager Louis van Gaal has shifted out some of the disappointing Euro 2012 personnel and rejuvenated his squad with the likes of midfielders Jody Claise and Jonathan de Guzman. Experience with threat can be found in Robin van Persie (top scorer in qualification with 11 goals), Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben.
The verdict? If both teams stick to their positive MOs, this could be a mouthwatering tie.
What the local media say
"The expectations for Oranje, which lost the final 1-0 to Spain in South Africa in 2010, are not high, if the local media is to be believed. Footie magazine Voetbal International quotes a worried Johan Cruyff as saying that ‘there hasn’t been enough time to prepare the team for a new way of playing.’" – Dutchnews.nl
"David Silva has arrived in Brazil on peak form, to the point where he is knocking on the door of the starting XI and altering the manager's thought process – if the left-footer from Gran Canaria wasn't already in his original plans." – Marca
Key battle: Jordi Alba vs Arjen Robben
The Bayern Munich winger has been in stellar form this season, and can be described as one of the Oranje's true world-class talents. He has the speed and smarts to rock Spain on their heels, so how Alba lines up against him could be key. At Barça, where he sometimes doubles up as a midfielder, he has caught the eye with his passing and reading of the game; he also looks to attack from deep. With one eye on Robben, his aggressive instincts might have to be temporarily curtailed. Manchester United are reportedly interested; Van Gaal will be watching closely.
Facts and figures
- Spain have won their last 6 World Cup games, their best-ever run in the tournament. Their last 4 games have ended in 1-0 wins.
- Spain have kept a clean sheet in each of their last 4 World Cup games, the longest current run. Only Italy (5 games in 1990) and Switzerland (5 in 2006 and 2010) have ever enjoyed a longer run in the competition.
- The Netherlands have made it past the group stages in their last 7 previous World Cup participations.
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