Like us to subscribe
Mark van Bommel is Mr. Popularity. In the four days since he last played, the punditry has done nothing but highlight his since of fair play and his perpetual regard for his fellow player. His dialog with referees is being considered by FIFA as model player behavior, and regardless of what happens on Sunday, people will remember Mark van Bommel for the example he’s set throughout the last month.
And none of that is true. Mark van Bommel has been the opposite of whomever I was describing, fans left wondering how the Dutch midfielder can have only been carded once in the Netherlands’ six matches. Far form Mr. Popularity, van Bommel has been the tournament’s bad boy.
Despite being labeled as a bit dirty, van Bommel has been effective. His physical play has disrupted the Dutch opponents, getting under the skin of a few along the way. If you subscribe to the maxim that it’s only illegal if the referee says so, van Bommel is one of the most effective central midfielders in the tournament.
He will be reforming his central midfield partnership with Nigel de Jong, the younger of the pair returning from a one game suspension. With de Jong back, van Bommel may have license to continue his physical play, perhaps motivated by a match-up against a number of players from his former club (Barcelona).
Xavi Hernandez, a former teammate, will be tasked with maintaining his composure against van Bommel, a difficult job considering when van Bommel isn’t testing the referee’s leniency, he’s still a very good central midfielder.
Joris Mathijsen is a bit of the invisible man in the Dutch defense. He is neither prone to mistakes nor apt to be dominant. He is simply, almost invariably, very good, yet you rarely hear about his play because it is not quite brilliant enough to register in any "Best of" conversations. In this tournament, he has a chance to make the 23-man post-competition All-Star team, but more likely he will barely miss-out.
Again, steady if unspectacular, a trait that might find a winger lacking but makes a central defender a cornerstone. The one regret for Mathijsen will be injuring his knee in warm-ups against Brazil, missing that match, where his absence was a big part of Brazil taking an early lead. Fortunately for the Netherlands, they were able to overcome the early deficit. Fortunately for Mathijsen, the knee injury was not serious.
He will be the left side of the Dutch central defense pairing, partnering John Heitinga.
Mathijsen is going to have to contain David Villa. Fortunately for the Dutch defender, Spain seem to have trouble finding their leading scorer when he’s deployed centrally, but should that change today, Mathijsen, less likely to be caught out-of-position than Heitinga, will be at the back to try and beat Villa to spaces in passing channels and otherwise cut-off angles to goal. It’s not an adventageous match-up for the Dutch, but Mathijsen does have it within his game to contain Villa.
Andres Iniesta is the player Barcelona fans discuss as possibly being the equal to Xavi Hernandez, but this isn’t a Hall and Oates situation (no offense, Oates). This is much more like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Or Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. Nobody’s getting Garfunkel’d here, Trebek (except, after that array of comparisons, possibly your author).
As a midfielder, Iniesta possesses the same technical gifts as Hernandez but applies them in differently. If Xavi’s the first player written on the chalkboard when you’re diagramming a formation, Iniesta might be the last, as his ability to play anywhere across the width of the pitch, from midfield forward, allows him to offset your weakness while attacking your opponents’.
Iniesta started the tournament injured but has been one of Barcelona’s best players since, his positional versatility allowing coach Vincente del Bosque to maintain strong set-ups while working through some problems in his formation. Iniesta has Spain’s only non-David Villa open-play goal and has done the subtle things, like instigate the build-up for the goal against Portugal and win the corner kick that led to the Germany goal.
Iniesta should play mostly on the left of midfield, sometimes moving into an a more forward position, but the insertion of Pedro into the starting lineup gives Spain so much positional flexibility that you’ll most likely see Iniesta without a set position, the forward players frequently swapping positions based as much on the flow of the match as any tactical advantages.
When on the left, right back Gregory van der Wiel’s athleticism will allow the young Dutch fullback to stay with Iniesta, but given Iniesta was matched-up against all-world fullback Philipp Lahm in the semifinals and still found a way to have an impact, van der Wiel will have a difficult return from suspension.
Carles Puyol is a Spanish defender who is best known for his long hair but would probably be more fairly associated with his amazing strength, conditioning, and (of lack of a better term) heart. A humorous but strangely accurate moniker that describes the Catalan star is used by Spain-based English wirter Sid Lowe, who sometimes refers to Puyol as Captain Caveman for both his appearance and his playing style.
Puyol has had a great tournament, with Spain having allowed only two goals while he scored the game-winner in the semifinal against Germany - a headed shot off a corner kick. Its difficult to imagine FIFA's 23-man post-tournament All-Star team being named without Puyol being selected.
Puyol will make up the left-half of a central defense partnership with his Barcelona teammate, Gerard Piqué (the two often playing in opposite places for their club, with Puyol on the right of the pairing). He will be needed to help contain Arjen Robben cutting-in from the defense’s left and, as is always the case with Spain, he and Piqué will be crucial to stopping opposition’s counterattacks.
Dutch striker Robin van Persie, who is exactly the type of player who Puyol can have success against. Van Persie’s movement is good but not relentless enough to stress Puyol, and Puyol’s physicality can take van Persie out of his game.
Nigel de Jong is a 25-year-old midfielder for the Netherlands who, in some ways, is responsible for a a controversial shift in the Dutch national team's approach to soccer. His emergence into the national team has allowed the Netherlands’ coach Bert van Marwijk to switch to a system that uses two deep-sitting midfielders, a system far more conservative that the free-flowing Dutch style for which the nation became known.
When available, de Jong has been a controlling presence in midfield, disturbing opponent attacks as they move toward the Dutch goal. He is, however, coming off a one game suspension, incurred after accumulating too many yellow cards in preceding matches.
Sitting in a deep, defensive position in the Netherlands’ midfield, de Jong and partner Mark van Bommel will be the most important aspect of their team’s defense. They will be tasked with protecting a suspect Dutch central defense by breaking-up attacks before they can reach defenders John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen, their physical play to provide a nuisance to a Spanish side that is stereotyped as not responding well to contact.
Xavi Hernandez. The Spanish central midfielder is the tournament’s most prolific passer, and if de Jong can disrupt him, it's unclear how Spain would respond. The one team in this tournament (Paraguay) that was able to temporarily disrupt Hernandez actually looked Spain’s equals for a half. De Jong can have a similar effect today.
Iker Casillas is Spain’s captain, starting goalkeeper and is on the verge of setting the record for most appearances with the Spanish national team. At 29-years-old, he will play in his 111th international match on Sunday, 15 short of the nation’s record. Though he is coming off a year that saw his supremacy within the Spanish game debated for the first time in years, Casillas is still considered amongst the best players in the world at his position.
Although he has had his shakey moments, Casillas has only allowed two goals and has saved Spain a number of times, most noticably in the last two rounds, where hs made saves on German Toni Kroos and Paraguayan Roque Santa Cruz that other good goalkeepers may have failed to keep out of their net.
Spain habitually hogs the ball, and with the Dutch also having some issues in generating attacks, Casillas could have another quiet day in goal. However, he has been asked to save Spain in each of the last two matches, and with the individual talent on the Netherlands’ team, Casillas is likely going to have to make a big save on one of the Dutch stars at some point on Sunday.
For goalkeepers, you could say they’re matched-up against the whole team or no individual players (or both, depending on your inclination), but two sights Casillas will want to avoid on Sunday: the dancing Jabulani ball coming off Arjen Robben’s left foot; Wesley Sneijder within 26 yards with a dead ball chance on goal (should he get to take it).
Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder has had a remarkable year. At this time last summer, he was being shopped for sale by his club, Spain’s Real Madrid. He eventually landed in Italy with one of that country’s biggest teams, Internazionale Milano, where he proved the key addition in leading his team to league and European titles. Now, Sneijder is on the verge of winning the World Cup, all within the same calendar year.
Sniejder has been an analog for the Dutch’s entire tournament. At any given time, he doesn’t seem to be doing anything remarkable, but through timely play, he has five goals, almost all of them crucial to the Netherlands’ results. And although he deserves credit for being in position to take the goals, some of his tally involve more than a bit of good fortune. Regardless, sitting tied for the tournament lead in goals scored (with three other players), Sneijder is one of the few remaining contenders for the Golden Ball, awarded to the tournament’s best player.
In the system the Netherlands play, Sneijder is the key player. He will be in a central, attacking midfield position and tasked with orchestrating the Dutch’s transition and attack. He is the player responsible for setting-up goal scoring chances for the Netherlands’ three other attacking players: Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, and Dirk Kuyt.
Spain’s two defensive midfielders, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, can make this a long day for the Dutch if they can stifle Sneijder, but as Busquets may have to help with Robben, Alonso may be asked to play with more proficiency in defense than he’s accustomed.
Over the nine month, Arjen Robben’s been a magician, his left foot his wand - and when you look at his face, he does carry the appearance of a Harry Potter character. Even name, pronounced AR-yen RO-ben, sounds like one of Rowling's characters.
Contributing to his wizardry feel, Arjen can craft goals out of nothing. He did so in leading his club team, German champions Bayern Munich, to Europe’s Champions League final and has continued doing so for his country in this tournament. He plays on the Netherlands’ right wing, allowing him to bring the ball onto his left to shoot, when he is a scoring threat anywhere within 35 yards of goal.
Robben missed the first two matches of the tournament recovering from a hamstring injury suffered in the Dutch’s last pre-World Cup warm-up. He made his return in the Netherlands’ third group stage match, setting-up a goal for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. In the team’s next match, Robben scored from 24-yards out, against the run-of-play, to put the Netherlands ahead of Slovakia. He headed-home the winning goal in the last round against Uruguay.
Robben will be on the right wing, but more than anything else, he is the Netherlands’ guaranteed offense. Even if everything else is going wrong for the Dutch, they have an instant attack the second they get the ball out to their right flank.
Spain left back Joan Capdevila, a figure that is at times criticized, is the first line of defense, but against a player like Robben, you don’t put all the responsibility on one man. Left-central defender Carles Puyol and defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets will be asked to help.
David Villa is the main attacker for Spain and should be their only true forward in the starting lineup. He is in the discussion for best forward in the world, a discussion which, when waged by people who follow Spain's top league, typically settles on him.
David Villa’s been the most dangerous goal scorer in the tournament, currently tied for the competition’s high mark for goals: five. He has scored 72 percent of Spain’s goals including a goal-of-the-tournament caliber effort against Honduras where he split three defenders while coming-in from the left wing and, while cutting back across goal, put a shot into the right corner of goal, falling to the ground while stretching his right leg to shoot the ball from 12 yards out.
Villa will be in a central role, playing right along the Dutch back line. The movement of Spains attacker's will see him go wide and drop off the line as needed; however, after a lineup change enacted at the beginning of Spain’s semifinal against Germany, Villa looks set to be the lead attacker in Spain’s formation.
Both of the Netherlands’ central defenders - Joris Mathijsen and John Heitinga - will be tasked with cancelling out Villa. Mathijsen is a steady presence in central defense while Heitinga is known more for his versatility and skill than his defensive prowess. Together, they’re considered an area on the Dutch team that can be exploited.
Xavi Hernandez, or just Xavi, is a central midfielder from Barcelona - the short, fast guy in the middle of the Spain team who will have the ball more than any other player on the pitch. One of his infrequently used is nicknames Humphrey Bogart. He is generally recognized as the best central midfielder in the world, with some (a name, I call myself) arguing he is the best player in the world. He is the man that Spain and Barcelona (the two-time reigning champions of the Spanish league) have build their teams around, so yeah - he's alright.
He was named Man of the Match in Spain’s victories over Germany and Portugal and leads the tournament in passes completed. As always, he has been the steady, quarterback-like presence that’s kept Spain moving forward in the face of teams who've typically played very defensively against the talented Spanish attack.
It’s unchanging with Xavi. When Spain coach Vincente del Bosque goes to the chalkboard to work-out his team’s tactics for a match, the first Spanish name he writes down is Xavi, putting it right in the center of the field.
There are two, as the Netherlands have a pair of players - Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel - who will each play central, defensive midfield positions. Each will have their chances to come up-the-field and challenge Xavi, and when Xavi moves closer to the Dutch goal, the Spaniard will have to deal with both of Holland’s tenacious midfield anchors.
The World Cup final is one of the few events in sport that garner the willing attention of people who know little-to-nothing about the participants, if not the sport. The Super Bowl is another example, as are the Olympics, but for almost any other major sporting event you won’t get a question like "What happens next?" At various places around the world today, a new soccer fan will be asking the person seated TV-center what the players will do if somebody happens to touch the ball with their hand. It's the best day of the year to try and bring the Beautiful Game to a potential life-long addict. Go for it, enabler.
We here at SB Nation are neither qualified nor inclined to explain all the rules (being the evil kind people that would make-up stories about prison sentences for playing outside the lines), but where we can help you is with the main actors. Through the hours leading up to today's 2:30 p.m. Eastern kick-off, we will be releasing brief player profiles, the hope being that we can give you at least one piece of information that you latch onto about each key player, providing you with some context for his performance.
And for those people who already are world soccer addicts, we hope to give you a series of posts you’ll enjoy flipping through in those anxious moments before Howard Webb blows his whistle and drops his arm.
We'll email you a reset link.
If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.
You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.
We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.
You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.
We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.
Choose an available username to complete sign up.
In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.