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Spain, Netherlands gear up for clash to be world's best

In what is an intriguing match-up, Spain and the Netherlands meet in the World Cup final in Johannesburg on Sunday night. Here, DW’s Nick Amies looks at the key battles which could determine who wins the 2010 World Cup.

Dutch and Spanish flags behind the

Both finalists have a number of potential match winners

Wesley Sneijder versus Sergio Busquets

Few would dispute that Wesley Sneijder has been one of the players of the tournament. The Inter Milan playmaker has been at the heart of much of Holland's ingenuity and has weighed in with a hugely impressive five goals from his roaming creative role in the midfield. With Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong charged with more defensive duties, Sneijder will again have the job of driving the Dutch on, probing for openings for Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie and hitting his own shots from distance.

Wesley Sneijder and Sergio Busquets

Wesley Sneijder will try to bypass Spain's Sergio Busquets

The man whose job it will be to deny Sneijder space is Sergio Busquets. Now Barcelona's first choice defensive midfielder, Busquets has already faced off against Sneijder in the Champions League semi-finals last season and came off second best. Still only 21, Busquets unseated Marcos Senna from the same role in the Spain team and is now the man to patrol ahead of the Spanish back four. He will need to close Sneijder down fast, denying him time and space to play in others or shoot, much as he did against Mesut Oezil and Lukas Podolski in the semi-final win over Germany. It will not be an easy task but its imperative for Spain that he succeeds.

David Villa versus Joris Mathijsen

David Villa has shown at this World Cup why the best teams in Europe were all clambering for his signature before the tournament began. The new Barcelona forward has hit five goals on the way to the final and has taken Spain's scoring burden on his shoulders with aplomb. Not the tallest man on the field, Villa can still cause problems in the air just by making the effort but his danger lies at his feet. Villa has impeccable timing which, given the quality of the ball-playing midfielders in his team, makes him a deadly striker. Spain like to play across the box and probe for openings and Villa is the fox in the box. It only takes a subtle flick or fast through ball for Villa to spring his trap. Precise acceleration means he's rarely caught offside and with little or no back lift in his shot, he needs very little space to take advantage of an opportunity.

David Villa and Joris Mathijsen

David Villa will have to get past Dutch defender Joris Mathijsen

Joris Mathijsen's solid performances in South Africa have cemented his position as one of Holland's best defenders. A player who goes about his business with quiet efficiency, Mathijsen is a well drilled back who will know all about the threat David Villa poses. Much like Villa, Mathijsen has a low centre of gravity and can turn quickly and accelerate at speed so will be ready to stay with the Spain forward should he break. Mathijsen's performance against Uruguay's Diego Forlan in the semi-final reduced the striker to long shots. The Dutch will be hoping that Mathijsen will frustrate the Spanish forward to the same extent – but with a different outcome: Forlan scored from distance.

Arjen Robben versus Joan Capdevila

After laboring a little at the start of the tournament due to an injury picked up in a pre-World Cup warm-up game, Arjen Robben has since shown his most devastating form. Most dangerous when cutting in from the right to aim his lethal left footed shots at goal, Robben has turned a number of left-backs inside out over the course of this tournament and shown most of them a clean pair of heels while racing past them. Robben will be allowed to roam at will but will be given the right channel as his own to penetrate, hitting the by-line to deliver crosses or swerving into the area to shoot at goal.

Arjen Robben and Joan Capdevila

Arjen Robben will be looking to torment Joan Capdevila

Experienced Villareal left-back Capdevila will have seen it all before, however, coming up as he did against Robben when the Dutchman was a Real Madrid player, but questions remain over whether his aging legs will be able to cope this time around. Capdevila's head is a wise one though and will use his guile as much as his skill to keep an eye on Robben with the more athletic Sergio Ramos likely to be lurking in support just in case. Robben will not have things all his own way though. Capdevila still possesses enough speed to threaten as an overlapping attacking option and the Dutchman may be forced to track back to prevent the Spaniard from getting into dangerous positions behind him.

Andres Iniesta versus Nigel de Jong

It's no surprise that Spain's return to confidence and competence has coincided with the recovery of Andres Iniesta from injury. While Xavi Hernandez probes, Iniesta flits and darts like a dragonfly around his midfield partner, collecting and poking short tactical passes to him before nipping past perplexed defenders. Given a similar brief to Wesley Sneijder, Iniesta ghosts around in front of the back four, ready to play the killer ball to David Villa or feint his way into his own goal-scoring position. Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger - who looked imperious until the semi-final - was made to look ordinary by Iniesta on Wednesday night while Sami Khedira was constantly pulled out of position by his movement.

Andres Iniesta and Nigel de Jong

Tricky Andres Iniesta faces tough tackling Nigel de Jong

Nigel de Jong will probably interchange with Mark van Bommel when it comes to dealing with Xavi and Iniesta as they approach the Dutch back four, but de Jong is more likely to get the first bite at Iniesta due to his better mobility. De Jong has matured into a more intelligent yet still very combative defensive midfielder after coming under criticism for his often overly-physical game. He'll need his wits about him to deal with Iniesta but armed as he is now with a fully engaged brain to go with his quick feet, de Jong's defenders will be well protected.

Xavi Hernandez versus Mark van Bommel

Mark van Bommel has drawn both praise and jeers for his all-action approach to games at this World Cup, drawing widespread criticism for a number of fully committed tackles which have left opponents wincing. A volatile player who has a reputation for niggly fouls and a fast mouth, van Bommel's temperament has been a source of debate for most of his career. However, his performances as a whole have been outstanding in South Africa and his team's defensive record has as much to do with his policing of the region in front of the penalty area as it does the actual defensive work of the back four. Facing Spain, a team who will spend a lot of time in his neighborhood, means that van Bommel will have a busy evening on Sunday and he will have to keep his cool under what will be a concerted amount of pressure.

Xavi Hernandez and Mark van Bommel

Xavi Hernandez goes head-to-head with Mark van Bommel

Xavi will be a constant threat to van Bommel's peace. Both he and Iniesta will be right in the Dutchman's face, leaving the languid build up behind them to the likes of Xabi Alonso and Busquets. Xavi will bring the ball into van Bommel's zone and look to draw him into either making a rash tackle within striking distance of the goal, or pull him out of position enough to bypass him with threaded passes. With Iniesta buzzing round him and Xavi forcing him to chase clipped exchanges, van Bommel needs to be disciplined. Xavi's goal threat has been reduced in recent years but his damage comes from playing people in. He will hope that the Dutch get frustrated by chasing the game before choosing the moment to strike.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann

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