If there is one man who will always be associated with Dutch heartbreak in the Final of the FIFA World Cup™, it is former Argentina forward Mario Kempes. Having reached the title decider for the second successive final tournament, the Netherlands were again denied the Trophy thanks largely to El Matador, whose double strike at Buenos Aires’ Estadio Monumental on 25 June 1978 handed La Albiceleste a 3-1 success and earned him the top scorers’ award in the process.
The former Valencia goal-getter generously took time out from preparing to commentate for ESPN radio on the Final of South Africa 2010, which pits the Oranje against European champions Spain, to give an exclusive interview to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Mario, we’re just hours away from the Final between the Netherlands and Spain. Who do you think is in better form?
Mario Kempes: They’re both in very good form, though Spain are playing slightly better. Their players have excellent technique and defend well by keeping hold of the ball. They’re a great team. That said, we mustn’t forget that this is a final and there’s an added factor involved: adrenaline. With that in mind, it doesn’t really matter who's been doing better up to now. Spain have the slight edge, but it’ll all go down to what happens on the pitch.
What type of game do you think we’ll see?
I’m expecting the Final to be quite open, because Spain don’t play defensively or man-to-man mark. The Netherlands also play good football and will set out their stall to attack. Let’s hope there are plenty of goals.
The last time the Oranje reached the Final in 1978 you scored twice in a 3-1 Argentina win. What do you remember from that game?
Lots of things! The Dutch had us pinned back in our own half for the first 15 minutes. We couldn’t get a foothold in the game, they were passing the ball around well and were dragging us all over the place. But as the minutes went by we settled down and started to get our house in order.
How does that Dutch team compare with the current side?
They’re nothing like each other. The current side relies more on individual brilliance than playing as a team. They’ve got very good players like [Arjen] Robben and [Dirk] Kuyt up front, [Wesley] Sneijder in a creative role and [Mark] van Bommel and [Nigel] de Jong in the centre of the park, cutting out everything that comes their way. Not for nothing are they on a 25-game unbeaten run. They’ve gone about things the right way and proved they’re a selfless team with a strong character.
Why do think the Netherlands have never lifted the Trophy, despite the great players and teams they’ve had over the years?
Often the slice of luck you need (to win titles) doesn’t come your way. In the 1974 Final they took the lead within five minutes and ended up losing the match. I think the goal hurt them more than it did the Germans! They had another opportunity in Argentina and couldn't take it. In fact, it was us who got a bit lucky when their shot hit the post right at the end of normal time (with the score at 1-1). But this team’s different, they have a different mental approach. That may serve them well but, on paper at least, Spain are stronger.
You know Spanish football very well. Do you think they can keep playing their distinctive style of football even in a decisive game like this?
Yes, of course. Even when they played badly against Switzerland all they were lacking was a goal. Though it’s true that only [David] Villa is having a truly excellent tournament, bringing Pedro into the side has changed the look of the team and given it more speed and freshness. Pedro is hard to contain and creates danger, so he’ll be important to them. What matters is that Spain will never sacrifice the style of play they’ve had for over two years now.
Villa and Sneijder are both battling it out for the adidas Golden Boot. Who do you think has the best chance of winning that award?
I think whoever plays for the team that wins the Final will take it, as you’d expect. They’re two great players though they play in different roles. Sneijder is more about making runs from midfield into scoring positions and Villa has great movement and can play across the front line. Spain are dependent on him, while the Netherlands have other players who can chip in with goals. Nor can we rule out [Diego] Forlan or [Miroslav] Klose (in the race for the Golden Boot).
Is that award the ultimate accolade for a striker?
Only winning the world title is better. At an individual level, it’s a lovely award. And even more so the way I won it, which happened almost by accident (laughs). I was way behind and ended up winning it thanks to my goals in the latter stages.
And finally, can we have your prediction for the Final?
Of course, I think Spain will win 3-1.