Spain’s Xavi expects World Cup final vs. Netherlands to be more than just midfield battle

By Paul Logothetis, AP
Saturday, July 10, 2010

Xavi: WCup final not just about midfield

JOHANNESBURG — Spain midfielder Xavi expects Sunday’s World Cup final against the Netherlands to be more than just a midfield battle.

He presents that theory despite the two teams owning perhaps the best collection of players for that position in soccer.

The game at Soccer City “won’t just be a war of midfielders” according to the Barcelona playmaker, although he said keeping the ball is likely to be one of the determining factors. Spain has Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso in its midfield, while the Dutch rely on Wesley Sneijder, Mark van Bommel and Rafael van der Vaart.

“It’s true that whichever team has better ball possession will be halfway toward a win,” Xavi said Saturday. “We’ll intend to impose our style of play from the opening minute. But the Netherlands will, too. Possession will clearly be the key to the game.”

Xavi promised the European champions will come out aggressively from the start, as they have in each of its six games in South Africa — even if the goals haven’t really followed.

Coach Vicente del Bosque expects the Dutch to attack and was ready to adapt to whatever they throw at Spain. Xavi couldn’t remember Spain having to get physical in any recent match.

“Spain has always looked to play an attractive game, an offensive and attacking game,” Xavi said. “That’s what we like, and people identify with this. But the Netherlands’ football also looks like the one that Spain practices.”

But goalkeeper Iker Casillas thinks Spain stands out.

“Spanish football has been amazing for more than 3½ years,” Casillas said. “Spain created a style of play that it has stuck with and practiced to this day, even with a change of coaches and players. Being in the European Championship and two years later the World Cup final shows that.”

Despite trying to play the beautiful game as best it can, the Spaniards have struggled to score. David Villa is tied as top scorer with Sneijder, Germany’s Thomas Mueller and Uruguay’s Diego Forlan at five goals, and has accounted for all but two of Spain’s goals in the tournament. Iniesta and defender Carles Puyol have the others, with Puyol’s header beating Germany in the semifinals.

Striker Fernando Torres has struggled and may not start for the second straight game. That could put an extra burden on Spain’s outstanding midfield.

“Sure we haven’t scored many goals, but the football we are playing is notable,” Xavi said. “We’ve generated a lot of chances, but the percentage that we’ve scored is not usual for the Spanish team. Let’s see if we can improve that tomorrow.”

Casillas, who has won Champions League, Spanish league and Intercontinental Cup titles on top of an under-19 World Cup trophy, was feeling anxious in the buildup to Sunday.

“I’m very nervous because it is such an important game,” said the Real Madrid goalkeeper, who is considered one of the world’s best. “I’ve already got butterflies in the stomach.”

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