In what is being billed as a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final, Spain will face off against Netherlands – surely the biggest game of the group stages. While Netherlands will be looking to take maximum points from the game, Spain will definitely make it tough for Netherlands to get away with their game-plan.
“I prefer to play football, not just to get the ball forward at the first opportunity. I try to wait for, or to create, the best opportunity for the right pass.” – Vicente del Bosque
Spain are expected to line up in their standard 4-2-3-1 formation, as Del Bosque prefers playing with a double pivot, in order to provide more control. However, they just might decide to go for a 4-3-3 in order to counter the Dutch. It also remains to be seen whether Spain decide to start with the balanced center-back pairing of Ramos & Pique or an aggressive duo of Ramos & Martinez. In their last friendly, against El Salvador, Spain started with Alonso, Koke and Fabregas in midfield – so Koke provides another option to Del Bosque in midfield. Else he always has the option to start with the aging but tested trio of Xavi, Busquets and Alonso. Pedro and Iniesta are most likely to be the wide forwards, unless del Bosque decides to bring in Silva to offer more creativity.
With an unfortunate injury to Strootman, which has kept him out of the World Cup, van Gaal has decided to tinker with the Oranje’s formation. Netherlands have lined up in something of a 5-3-2 in their most recent friendlies. Oh alright, call it a 3-4-1-2 if you really must. However, van Gaal believes in having one spare man at the back, depending on the number of opposition strikers. Seeing how Spain would practically never line up with 2 strikers, will we see Netherlands shift to a back four, with two center-backs?
This game is guaranteed to be very different from the dirty contest that was the 2010 World Cup final. While Bert van Marwijk’s Dutch side had played a very physical game on that day, today’s game is bound to throw up some exciting tactical battles in key positions over the pitch. The wing-play is going to be worth watching – we all know how Spain’s fullbacks love pushing far up the pitch. Louis van Gaal will be hoping to contain them using his wing-backs, but whether this will work out or not, we will have to wait and watch.
Nigel de Jong, the honorary karate kid of the Oranje, will be deployed as a pure destroyer, a role he performs with great efficiency. However, this Dutch midfield is sorely lacking the sort of guile that Strootman offered to the team. As a result, ‘disconnects’ can be often seen between the front three and the rest of the team, when building up play through the middle. This is where the role of Sneijder is going to be all the more important – he should be allowed to come deep and play as a classical playmaker, rather than an auxiliary striker. De Jong’s midfield partners will also have to do quite a bit of running today.
Meanwhile, Robben, as part of a front two, is playing in a role which he is totally unaccustomed to at club level. He prefers staying out wide on the right and coming in on his left foot. If he ends up occupying the same zone today as his right back, it could cause an imbalance, as the right back will either have to stay deep or ahead of Robben at all times. The latter is definitely not going to be an option, as the Spanish left back and wide forwards will gladly utilize this space. If they stay deep, it will lead to a lack of width on the right flank.
The manner in which Robben dovetails with van Persie also remains to be seen, and could have a significant bearing on the outcome of the game. Van Persie will also be playing a slightly different role (a converted number 10) to the one he has at Manchester United (a pure number nine.) He will be dropping in between the lines and playing the channels, depending on which stage the game play is at. Nevertheless, this is an attacking duo than can hurt any defense if allowed the space and time.
All in all, here’s hoping to see an excellent tactical match up from these sides. The midfield and the flanks are going to be key areas for both teams. Whether Spain decide to start with Costa/Villa, or they decide to go with a false-nine to draw out Netherland’s center-backs will also be a key factor. Undoubtedly, Spain are the stronger side here. Will the Oranje be able to deal with La Furia Roja? We’ll soon find out.