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Spain have talent to beguile the waiting world against Holland
10/07/2010  by Telegraph.co.uk
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This World Cup has been an enjoyable tournament but not yet an epic one. South Africa 2010 will always be remembered for the wonderful fans, and for how the hosts laid on a magical party from Cape Town to Durban, Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg, but it desperately needs a memorable final to be considered a truly stellar event.

Painting the town red: Spain have the talent and the team spirit to ensure we have a final not to miss and a World Cup not to be forgotten

Splashes of colour have enlivened the Fifa canvas, the exuberance of Ghana and the red verve of Spain, the counter-attacking of Holland and the youthful energy of Germany, but the organisers' cold statistics reveal the paucity of goals, particularly when placed in historical context.

After the nadir of Italia 90, when the average was 2.21 goals per game, the lowest ever, USA 94 saw the average rise to 2.71 but it has declined steadily ever since.

France 98 saw 2.67, Japan/South Korea 2.52 and Germany 2.30. (The peak was 5.38 in Switzerland in 1954).

With two games remaining, the tally is 139, the average is 2.24 and eight goals are required to reach the 147 of 2006. Everybody hopes that Germany and Uruguay lay on a feast of goals in the third-place game on Saturday and that Spain and Holland live up to their attacking reputations in Sunday's final.

If both games squeeze out only two goals then South Africa 2010 will statistically be the worst World Cup ever for goals. The Jabulani ball can expect another kicking.

Even if the numbers tell one story, the happy narrative of the past few weeks makes it seem like a superior World Cup. Maybe it is the stadiums, some of which, like Durban's, take the breath away.

Maybe it is the absence of tension between supporters, who sit happily alongside each other.

Maybe it is the weather; if this is South Africa's winter, their summer must be microwave hot. Ultimately, this World Cup feels so good because of the feelgood nature of the people.

It may not last, and greater minds than a football journalist's will doubtless examine the real legacy of this special event to a remarkable but flawed country, but everyone can see that this World Cup has bequeathed hope. Off the pitch, the winners are South Africa.

On the pitch, the tournament has not been graced by a superstar, certainly no one to compare with a Diego Maradona in 1986 or Ronaldo in 2002. This has been the tournament of the team, of well-coached units like Holland and Spain, Germany and Uruguay.

It has been the World Cup of tactics, of systems like 4-2-3-1, of young ideas and the death of old teams like England, France and Italy, who seemed to think they had entered a Veterans' competition.

For all the frustration at the low goal returns and the absence of a player who deserves naming rights to a World Cup, troupes of good performers have toured the fine South African stages.

On Friday, Fifa's Technical Study Group released the 10-strong list of candidates for the Golden Ball and even the serially cantankerous would struggle to take issue with nine.

Wesley Sneijder has been elegantly effective in compiling his five goals for Holland, matching the return of David Villa, such a threat when cutting in from Spain's left. Two others, Diego Forlán and Asamoah Gyan, also play with a smile, a dynamism and an eye for goal.

Andrés Iniesta, Xavi and Mesut Özil have treated the ball as a friend, ushering it towards friendly feet in the danger zone. Bastian Schweinsteiger has been liberated by Michael Ballack's unfortunate injury and charged between boxes. Like Sneijder, the pacy, technical Arjen Robben will test Spain.

But Lionel Messi? The main plotline of this 2010 drama is that the leading lights, Messi and Kaka, Ronaldo and Rooney, have not shone.

Messi has sparkled in parts but he is not deserving of top 10 status, particularly when Thomas Müller has been limited to the young player category.

Müller ripped England and Messi's Argentina apart. Müller's exclusion must be to do with his one-game suspension for two innocuous offences. What about the other five when he excelled?

Sensibly, Fifa now allows the media to wait until the final whistle in Soccer City before casting votes for best player, so preventing Golden Balls-ups when the honour was bestowed on the headbutting Zinedine Zidane in 2006, the vanquished Oliver Kahn in 2002 and the exhausted Ronaldo in 1998.

Xavi, Villa and Sneijder appear the main candidates and a bravura display from one in Soccer City will surely seal a World Cup winner's medal and the best player trophy. Let's just hope that nerves are left in the tunnel, that all seize the moment to lay on a spectacle.

For those more used to watching England it will be a pleasure and a privilege to admire how Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso circulate the ball for Spain, and observe how such heavyweight, occasionally bruiser-weight sentries as Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong seek to deny them.

"We will have to break their midfield and stop their playmakers from playing,'' said Van Bommel. "That is our biggest mission. We are ready for a big battle.'' Van Bommel's tendency to leave his foot in certainly needs watching by Howard Webb.

Each player will have his private motivation. For Van Bommel it will be the hurt of losing the Champions League final.

For Dirk Kuyt it will be the memory of his father, "my biggest fan'', who passed away three years ago, the anniversary of which fell a week ago.

For Gio van Bronckhorst it will be his final game. Spain certainly have enough players to make it a final to remember, and a World Cup never to be forgotten.

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