The World Cup Final Is Set: Spain Vs. Netherlands

Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Mike Pesca about the match-up for the World Cup finals. On Tuesday, the Netherlands beat Uruguay to earn one spot in the championship game. On Wednesday, Spain beat Germany 1-0 to take the other.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Let's talk soccer now. The final matchup is set. Spain will face the Netherlands on Sunday for the 2010 World Cup.

Spain beat Germany today by a score of one-nothing. Yesterday, the Dutch dispatched Uruguay to earn their spot in the championship game.

NPR's Mike Pesca is with us now.

Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

SIEGEL: And what was the key to Spain's win today?

PESCA: If I told you all the statistics of the game but not the final score and you knew anything about soccer, as I know you do, you would look at that sheet and say, well, Spain will have had to have won. They took more shots. They absolutely dominated possession, meaning the Germans, even though they were a counterattacking team and they don't mind if the other team has the ball a little more, Spain had the ball so much more that you would say, well, of course, Spain won.

But Spain had this penchant for not winning by a lot. They've won every game in the knockout stage by the exact same score - one to nothing. And that was the score of the game - one to nothing.

And the other thing I would say - point to, you know, when there's a bad call, when a goal is disallowed, everyone can point to that exact moment and say that was the thing.

What happened in this game that really hurt Germany was Thomas Mueller, one of their best players, was not allowed to play, and it was due to a bad referee call the game before - a handball - that he shouldn't been yellow carded for. So it's less easy to point to that exactly and say that was the exact reason, but it really had a big impact and hurt the German counterattack.

SIEGEL: Well, the Spanish will face the Dutch on Sunday and tell us what the Dutch bring to that match, apart from those great orange uniforms?

PESCA: Oranje, yeah. They have a great history, but a lot of people look at the current Dutch team and they say, even though historically the Netherlands play the system called total football, which basically means, in shorthand, any player can play any position, this Dutch team doesn't really do that, but they have a lot of talented offensive players, a lot of guys who could put the ball in the net a lot of different ways.

So although the cognizant, you know, are maybe saying the Dutch aren't gelling quite like the Spanish, they have won every single game. They've only trailed by about 40 minutes the entire World Cup. They went behind Brazil early. But the fact that they came back to beat Brazil, which was the number one team in the FIFA rankings, bodes well for their chances. The number two team in the FIFA rankings was Spain.

SIEGEL: One thing we know is that there will be a first-time World Cup champion because neither Spain nor the Netherlands has won before.

PESCA: It is a pretty tight rotation about which teams get to be and which countries get to be World Cup champions. Italy and Brazil, if you want to look at it that way, don't like to share the honor with others.

And it's also the first time since 1978 when Argentina played the Netherlands that we have two teams playing each other, neither one of which have won a World Cup. The Dutch are known as the best soccer nation never to have won a World Cup. And Spain right now pretty much look like just the best soccer nation.

SIEGEL: And it's the first time that there will be a European champion in a World Cup not played in Europe. I researched that.

PESCA: Yeah. They normally have the home continent advantage, yes.

SIEGEL: Here's your big opportunity. Want to make a prediction in the final game?

PESCA: Well, I know I looked - that Ladbrokes, the English broker, says Spain should win by about two to one. That sounds about right with me. Unless - and I'm going to throw this out there - if LeBron James tomorrow in his announcement, announces he will be playing for the Netherlands, I think that could put them over the top.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Okay, Mike, thank you very much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca in New York.

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