A new member eyes its place in World Cup pantheon
JOHANNESBURG - The World Cup champions are an illustrious and exclusive bunch. Only seven countries belong, and just twice in the last 40 years have they welcomed anyone new.
But it is time to start making room. On Sunday, there's going to be another name on that list.
Spain and the Netherlands are seeking their first title in the World Cup final at Soccer City. The Dutch have had two cracks at it already, earning that dreaded "best team never to have won the World Cup" title after coming up short in 1974 and again four years later. Spain has had its own issues, underachieving at major tournaments for 44 long years before winning the European title two years ago.
"The group deserves this, but we want more," Spanish striker David Villa said. "We are happy to be in the final, that was our objective. But now we want to be champions."
For all the hype over the South Americans and hope about the teams from Africa, the final will be a Europeans-only party for a second straight World Cup.
Spain is the reigning European champion, the game's second-biggest title after the World Cup. It has lost just two matches since November 2006, and its playing style bears a striking resemblance to Barcelona, which has run roughshod on just about everyone the last few years.
When it's on, Spain is awe-inspiring. Its back line of Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila is more like a wall - and just try getting anything by goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Germany seemed to be the class of the World Cup after routing England and Argentina by a combined 8-1 score in the knockout rounds. But the Germans had only a handful of chances in Wednesday night's 1-0 semifinal loss to Spain, and looked out of sync all night.
"I am sure the Spanish can win any game," Germany coach Joachim Loew said, "because they are dominant and it's hard to contain their attack."
The Dutch aren't exactly slouches, either. They won all eight of their qualifying matches, and are perfect in South Africa, too. Not since Pele's brilliant Brazil squad in 1970 has a squad had a chance at winning the World Cup with an unblemished record.
"We play well," Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk said. "Spain plays well, but they are more attractive and this is where we want to get, too."
The Netherlands has squandered all kinds of chances in front of its net, often winning by just a goal. It beat Uruguay, 3-2, in the semifinals.
German star hurt. Striker Miroslav Klose could miss the third-place match against Uruguay because of injury, and with it lose a chance to take over as top scorer in World Cup history.
Assistant coach Hansi Flick says Klose has a back injury and could miss Saturday's game in Port Elizabeth.
Klose needs one goal to match Ronaldo's record of 15 for Brazil.