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World Cup Final: Why Spain Has to Worry about the Dutch Octopus

Spain's Carles Puyol, second from left, scores a goal past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, second right, during the World Cup semifinal soccer match. AP Photo/Luca Bruno

When it comes to winning, artistic purity supposedly has no place.

Winning is more than everything, the only thing, not a matter of life and death, but something more important.

At least, that's the collective verdict of Vince Lombardi and one of football's most irascible equivalents, Bill Shankly of bygone Liverpool days.

Yet Barcelona (plus four) and the Netherlands, who meet in Sunday's World Cup Final have each decided on a slightly different path towards a place in world memory.

The Spanish team, composed of seven Barcelona players and four of their distant cousins, is one of the most pure ever to have graced football's ultimate spectacle.

If you can't pass the ball, you can't play for Barcelona and you can't play for Spain. If you don't enjoy a high level of ball control, then please run along and play for someone else. We hear England are desperate.

Gaudi, Spain's treasured architect, might never have finished his Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, but you can be sure that, had he lived long enough, he, too, would not have compromised.

Neither has Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque.

If your holding midfielder is Xabi Alonso, one of the most skillful, balanced and joyous players to watch, then you clearly believe that a very pure form of football is all you need.

A Gaudi creation in Barcelona, Spain. Marguerite Reardon/ CNET Networks

However, Spain's problem on Sunday may well be the same that impacted Gaudi.

The astounding artist-cum-architect was hit by a tram. Cab drivers left him on the sidewalk, thinking that he was just a hobo.

Spain must also beware of a tram. The large eight-man Dutch tram that sits behind Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie.

Those eight are the workmen who give their all, so that the three ahead of them can express themselves fully. And sometimes, they do hit people like a tram.

A turbo express tram.

At the heart of Dutch pragmatism sit Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong.

These two would be unwelcome in most lighted alleyways in the middle of a sunny day.

They could outscythe any Russian babushka and their principles, strange to see in a Dutch side, are those of destruction.

Officially, Van Bommel has only committed fifteen fouls in this World Cup.

Actually, he could easily have been yellow- or even red-carded the very moment before Giovanni Van Bronckhorst seared a shot into Uruguay's goal during the semi-final.

Van Bommel is the son-in-law of Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk.

One can only imagine that Van Marwijk employed the finest of forensic detectives before entrusting his daughter to this lumbering wrecking ball.

The role that he and De Jong will play is crucial because Spain, especially in the person of Xavi and Iniesta, enjoys trying to play tiny, deft balls through the middle, in order to create the finest of openings.

So much, therefore, might depend on the personage of Howard Webb, the English referee.

If he chooses to declare his intent early by yellow carding the first serious offense, he might make the Dutch more cogniscent of their boundaries.

If, however, he decides that a little World Wresting Entertainment (WWE) is just what the World Cup Final needs, then Spain might have a more difficult task.

Holland's Dirk Kuyt, who has worked even harder than any waiter or barman during this World Cup, claims that the Dutch intend to surprise.

He believes the Germans made the mistake in their semi-final of not attacking Spain.

"You could see the Germans were afraid," he said. "They didn't try to attack. We are going to attack and then you will see weaknesses coming to the surface."

If you're going to surprise someone, perhaps it's best not to tell them in advance what you're actually going to do.

However, he is right in that Spain does not have anything resembling a completely reliable defense.

The fuil-backs, Capdevila and Sergio Ramos are more enamored of the glory of attacking than gory nuisance of defending.

And goalkeeper Iker Casillas, perhaps conscious of the presence of his one true love, a rather attractive sideline TV reporter who stands behind the goal and sometimes offers awkward questions, has seemed a little skittish.

There again, he hasn't committed a one-handed wave worthy of Queen Elizabeth II as did his opposite number, Maarten Stekelenburg in the semi-final.

So Sunday ought not to be a dull affair.

It is strange to wonder how often Spain have managed to win 1-0 in this World Cup.

Four times in its six games, the Spanish, though always open to possessing the ball and moving forward with purpose, have won by the only goal.

This says as much about their failure to convert chances as about opposing defenses managing to stifle Spanish flair.

Spain must be quietly confident that it can use its intricacy to bypass the tentacles of the Dutch octopus. (And, by the way, the German octopus, Paul, has predicted a Spanish win.)

However, when you're Spanish, you always have to beware of oncoming trams.