Spain's World Cup run has Dutch flavour
The Netherlands stands in the way of Spain winning its first World Cup title.
But if the Spaniards do emerge victorious from Sunday's final (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 12:30 p.m. ET) in Johannesburg, they will owe a big thank you to the Dutch.
On the surface, FC Barcelona's imprint appears all over this talent-laden Spanish squad.
Six Barcelona players (seven if you include the recently-signed David Villa) were in the starting line-up against Germany in Wednesday's semifinal, including Xavi and Carlos Puyol, who teamed up on the winning goal, underlining Barcelona's influence on Spain's national team.
In many ways, Spain's overwhelming offensive strength is born out of the recent success of an attack-minded Barcelona team that is noted for tearing apart opponents with its swarming play. The Spaniards' fast-paced, pass-and-move possession game, known as Tiki Taka, is built on the foundation of the system employed by the Blaugrana.
While pretty and entertaining to watch, it's also proven highly effective — Spain has lost only twice since November 2006 and ended a 44-year major title drought when it defeated Germany to win Euro 2008.
But the legacy of Barcelona's attacking style was bequeathed to them by a series of Dutch managers - from Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard who coached the team in recent years, all the way back to the early 1990's when Johan Cryuff's Dream Team swept all before them.
Untested prospects shine
Barcelona's former Dutch coaches also made it a point to promote from within, giving untested prospects from their youth teams a chance to start for the senior side.
The list of such players is long, but it includes current Barcelona and Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquests, who made his debut for the Catalan side in a Catalonia Cup match under Rijkaard.
"You have to mention Van Gaal and Cruyff, who brought important players through from the youth system," Busquets told reporters Friday.
"Rijkaard was also a big proponent of using the 4-3-3 formation, which has been important for Barcelona and has also helped out the national team."
The Dutch influence at Barcelona runs even deeper, with former players Frank de Boer and Phillip Cocu currently serving as assistant coaches with Netherlands' national team. Current Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst and midfielder Mark van Bommel also played for the Catalans.
Spanish defender Carlos Marchena believes having so many players from Dutch-influenced Barcelona gives his country the edge in Sunday's final.
"Barcelona is the best team in the world," stated the Valencia star. "They know each other to perfection and it's a pleasure to be at their side."
It's also led to Spain reaching unparalleled levels of cohesion on the field at this tournament.
"The philosophy and playing style are very similar with both my club and Spain. In my opinion that's a bonus, because things come much easier when you've been playing alongside your colleagues all season," Busquets explained.
Busquets pointed to playmaker Wesley Sneijder as the Netherlands' most dangerous offensive weapon.
Sneijder is coming off an impressive season with Inter Milan in which he helped the Italians win a league championship, Italian Cup and Champions League crown.
He's hardly missed a beat in South Africa, scoring five goals for his country, good enough to tie Spain's David Villa as the tournament's top scorer going into Sunday's finale.
"He's a great player and has proved that at all the clubs he has played for, especially at Inter," Busquets said.
"We'll try to stop him as we would any other player, working together and trying to deny him the time to think. We have had to stop other great players at this competition and, hopefully we'll be able to do it again on Sunday."