Spain, Netherlands Prepare For World Cup Final
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
While millions tuned in to watch the LeBron James drama unfold last night, that audience pales in comparison to the one that will gather around TV sets on Sunday. It's the culmination of the biggest sporting event on the planet: the finals of the 2010 World Cup.
Spain will take on the Netherlands, and here for a preview is NPR's Mike Pesca. Hey, Mike.
MIKE PESCA: Hello.
KELLY: So neither of these are teams you might have put your money on at the beginning of the tournament. What are they each bringing to the game?
PESCA: Well, I would actually have put my money on the Spanish. The Spanish were a really good team. I mean, if you want to talk about teams that had never won before, yes, that's true. These are two teams that have not won a title. And the Netherlands is probably the best team not to have won, just speaking historically. But Spain held the number one FIFA ranking for a while. They actually came into the tournament as the number two team. They lost their first game in a ridiculous upset to Switzerland, but since then, they have been methodical and amazing. They've won every game in the knock out round by the exact score, one-to-nothing.
And what they do is they hold the ball for 60 percent, sometimes 65 percent of the game. And the other team, the Germans who just lost to them, said even when we caught up to them and we got the ball, we were so exhausted from chasing them, we couldn't do anything. They have an excellent goalie, and their striker David Villa, he's been perhaps the most dangerous offensive player this World Cup.
KELLY: OK, so that's Spain. The Netherlands, obviously, also fielding a great team. Who's the favorite going in?
PESCA: Well, the Netherlands are fielding a good team, and they beat Brazil, which was the number one ranked team in the quarterfinals. But with every game, the pundits say, well, here's what the Netherlands did wrong and here's why the Netherlands didn't play the perfect game. But the Netherlands have won every game so far. They've only trailed for a brief period of time, and if they go on to win, they'll be only the second team Brazil in 1970 being the other one that have won all their games, including group play.
So let's not discount them. That being said, Spain's a two-to-one favorite, and they really have been the best team over the last couple of years in the whole world, and it would be a huge disappointment for the Spanish and a big upset if they were to lose to the Netherlands.
KELLY: Give us a player or two on each team that we should keep our eyes peeled for during the action.
PESCA: Well, I talked about David Villa, and he's the Spanish striker. Coming into the tournament, his teammate Fernando Torres, he was supposed to be the man of the moment, but Torres has not scored at all during the World Cup. In their game against Germany when Spain was up one-nothing, the player Pedro had a chance, a breakaway, two-on-one breakaway, where all he had to do was slip the ball to Torres, and that really would have gotten Torres off the schneid. Pedro didn't make the pass, and it could be that Torres won't be starting. He didn't start against Germany.
Now, speaking of the schneid, let's talk about Wesley Sneijder, who's not a tall guy, but he does everything that needs doing. There are three offensive players for the Dutch. They're all very dangerous: Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Sneijder is the other one. They have a really good offense. They're very skilled with the ball. Their challenge will be to keep the Spanish from scoring. And we know that if the Spanish only score once, they very well could win. That's how they've been doing it.
KELLY: So that's the preview for Sunday. It has already been a long tournament. And Mike, I know you were in South Africa for a fair bit of it. Is it too early to give a report card on how the South Africans have done hosting the World Cup?
PESCA: I don't know too many economists who would say that hosting a sports tournament is a way to economic riches or recovery. I mean, you build ten stadiums, and eight of them usually lie fallow afterwards. But in terms of national pride and national mood, the tournament could not have been more successful in South Africa. I would talk to people after the South African national team was eliminated and they would always say, it doesn't matter, we are blessed by God to have this tournament.
KELLY: OK. Thanks, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome.
KELLY: That's NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca.