x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Spain like Clockwork Orange, but better

Xavi, the Spain midfielder, says his gifted team should not falter in the World Cup final like the majestic Dutch sides of the 1970s.

Spain's Carlos Marchena, facing, says the current crop of gifted players deserve to win the World Cup tonight.
Spain's Carlos Marchena, facing, says the current crop of gifted players deserve to win the World Cup tonight.

JOHANNESBURG // Holland's Total Football tactical system of the 1970s was based on short, rapid passing and tenacious ball retention. The Spanish side that arrive at Soccer City this evening hoping to leave with the World Cup trophy, are likewise based around fluidity on the field and keeping possession. The Oranje were so reliable in their tactical efficiency en route to the World Cup finals of 1974 and 1978 that they were nicknamed "Clockwork Orange" by the English-speaking media.

Judgement Day arrived with the sunrise this morning in South Africa, but as the clock ticks down to the reckoning hour, Xavi, Spain's midfield visionary who would not have looked out of place alongside Johan Cruyff in the heart of the Dutch midfield, said he is desperate not to suffer the fate of the 1970s Holland side. The Dutch lost both finals to the host country - Germany, then Argentina four years later - and have been labelled underachievers ever since. Voted man of the match in his country's 1-0 semi-final win over Germany, Xavi, the Barcelona playmaker, said his side's style of play warrants success. The idea of seeing his country's name engraved on the World Cup trophy for the first time provides additional motivation.

"We don't want to become another Clockwork Orange, we want to be the champions," he said. "We want to go down in history by lifting this trophy. It would be huge just for football, good for this sport and, what's more, this generation of players deserve it." For the European Champions' veteran defenders, Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila and Carlos Marchena, the final tonight most likely signals their last chance for success on the global stage.

Marchena, the Valencia centre-half who has appeared mainly as a substitute this summer, believes Spanish supporters are due success and that victory tonight would help banish the bad memories of previous campaigns where the Spaniards faltered. La Roja's best performance at a World Cup previous to South Africa was a their sole semi-final appearance, in 1950. "I believe the history of football owes us this one," said Marchena, 30.

"There have been great moments in our history where fortune did not end up on our side. We have been through several great disappointments over the years. We tried hard then, but without any luck. "Perhaps this time we are to change those bitter moments. I hope [today] is one of those beautiful moments which are to be remembered in a good way for the rest of our lives." There were fears ahead of this summer's showpiece that with players such as Cesc Fabregas, the Arsenal captain, and David Silva, the winger who recently joined Manchester City, being restricted to the substitutes' bench that unrest could ferment in La Roja's camp. Fabregas conceded he has felt "hurt" by his limited action in South Africa, but Marchena said it is the high morale amid Vicente Del Bosque's 23-man squad that is pushing the side forward.

"There have been great national teams before, but this team is the one that has been able to be the best 'team'," Marchena said. "This is how it has managed to get where it is and it's a great credit to our players." gmeenaghan@thenational.ae