Spain versus the Netherlands is no run-of-the-mill group encounter: it is a match with a very special character. It is arguably the most talked-about fixture in the build-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, and will remain so right up until the action starts for real. The reason? It is a repeat of the 2010 World Cup Final in South Africa, and everyone knows how the dramatic clash in Johannesburg ended.
"It’s a fantastic match. It’s a re-run of the World Cup Final and we’re really looking forward to it,” Xavi informed FIFA.com. "The Dutch are tricky opponents and we’re in a tough group," the Barcelona schemer continued.
New-look Dutch versus same Spain
His opposite number Wesley Sneijder voiced near-identical sentiments. "It’s not a normal first match. You usually wouldn’t expect to meet opponents like this until the knockout stages. But even if it goes badly it won’t be the end of the world, because we still have two more matches to come. Spain represent an ideal opening test, because we'll know at once where we stand,“ the man capped 99 times by the Netherlands said in a FIFA interview. "Our first game is against the team we played in the final match at the last tournament. But it's not about taking revenge for our defeat in the 2010 Final, it's a completely new game."
The crowd at Arena di Fonte Nova in Salvador will witness not only a completely different match but also a very different team in orange. Sneijder, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Nigel de Jong and Dirk Kuyt are the only members of the Dutch squad in Brazil who also appeared in the Johannesburg showdown, and coach Louis van Gaal is himself new on the touchlines. "The face of the team has changed considerably in the last four years, as we've added a number of young players. We have a perfect blend of fresh talent and experienced senior players," Sneijder insisted.
Ton up for Sneijder
Continuity rather than change is the order of the day for the Spanish. The Iberians feature a total of 11 players who appeared in 2010, and coaching great Vicente del Bosque still rules the dugout, so there is no reason to expect radical change from La Roja. "The same style, the same players, the same coach and the same philosophy. There’s really no difference worth mentioning," Xavi said. However, a rising star in the Spanish ranks could add a significant new weapon to an already formidable armoury.
"If Diego Costa plays he'll bring all his proven attributes to our game. He gets forward at speed, he holds the ball up well, he's very talented in front of goal and he’s on top form. And he's also immensely motivated by the thought of playing in Brazil where he was born. It's good we have him in the team," Xavi remarked.
Only del Bosque knows whether Costa will start against the Dutch. By contrast Sneijder is certain to feature for the Netherlands and is poised to bring up a century of international appearances. "Earning your 100th cap at the World Cup in Brazil is certainly special in itself, and it’s going to be against Spain, one of the best teams in the world,” the Dutch stalwart declared. “Obviously I'm hoping I can mark this milestone with a victory. That would be perfect."