Spain and Dutch vie to fill trophy cabinet void

PRETORIA - World Cup finalists Spain and the Netherlands have produced some of the greatest moments, classiest club sides and top players in football's history but somehow the biggest prize in the sport has always eluded them.

One country, though, will celebrate their first World Cup triumph at Soccer City in Johannesburg on Sunday bringing an end to generations of frustration.

The disappointment has been most acute for the Netherlands, who unlike Spain, have twice been agonisingly close to the top trophy.

The 1970s Dutch team are, arguably along with the 1954 Hungarian runners-up, the greatest team not to win a World Cup.

In 1974 the Dutch reached the final for the first time with a team coached by Rinus Michels and featuring magnificent talents such as Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep and three-times European Footballer of the Year Johan Cruyff.

With a revolutionary approach to the game, dubbed 'Total Football', the Dutch sparkled as they beat Argentina 4-0 and Brazil 2-0 in their second round group.

But despite taking the lead with a second-minute penalty, the Dutch were defeated 2-1 by hosts West Germany in Munich in the final.

Four years later, with several players, including Cruyff, refusing to take part, it was again the hosts that stood between the Netherlands and glory - this time in Argentina.


After Mario Kempes had put Argentina in front in the 38th minute, the Dutch took the game into extra-time with an equaliser from Dick Nanninga eight minutes from the end of normal time.

The Argentines scored twice in extra-time to set off a ticker-tape celebration in Buenos Aires and the golden generation were left without a trophy.

It was not until 10 years later, with a side inspired by Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, that the Dutch finally won a major tournament with their victory over the Soviet Union in the final of the European Championship.

In the World Cup two years later, though, the Netherlands reached the last 16 despite finishing third in the group stage, they reached the quarter-finals in 1994 and lost in the 1998 semi-finals after a penalty shootout with Brazil.

Spain's successes have almost exclusively been at the club level with 12 European Cup titles from clubs Real Madrid (9) and Barcelona (3).

Both the grand old clubs of La Liga have enjoyed much of their success thanks to the contributions of foreign players (including Cruyff at Barcelona) but Real's magnificent era in the early 1960's did translate into a European Championship win in 1964.

It was not until two years ago, though, that Spain was able to add a second European title and on the world stage they have under-performed badly.

The Spaniards hosted the 1982 finals but disappointingly went out in the second group stage and it was not until Javier Clemente's teams in the 1990s that La Roja really threatened to make an impression.

In the U.S in 1994, Clemente's side reached the quarter-final stage where they lost to Italy and four years later in France there was great optimism surrounding a team that included Real's prolific striker Raul and the exciting Luis Enrique.

But Spanish hopes suffered a major letdown with an exit in the group stage after a defeat to Nigeria, just a draw with Paraguay, and a solitary win against Bulgaria.

Now though, with what is widely acknowledged as their best ever team, Spain have a chance to become just the third team to be reigning European and world champions at the same time.

Only West Germany (1972, 1974) and France (1998, 2000) have held the double-title previously.

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