In World Cup final, Spain or Netherlands will earn a historic first

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 11, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- Soccer will crown its 2010 World Cup champion Sunday, and in the process, open the doors to an exclusive club for just the second time in three decades.

Only seven nations have won the title, but with two teams that have endured decades of disappointment meeting in front of a Soccer City Stadium crowd that will include presidents, prime ministers and princes, the list will grow by one.

Make way for Spain or the Netherlands.

Since the inaugural competition 80 years ago, Brazil, Italy and Germany have won 12 of the 18 championships. Argentina and Uruguay have combined for four, and England and France have claimed one apiece.

But as each standard bearer was eliminated over the past four weeks, a refreshing matchup emerged, featuring teams with distinguished yet unsatisfying traditions. Of the countries that have defined modern soccer through their enchanting play and by furnishing a ceaseless supply of talent to Europe's decorated pro leagues, Spain and the Netherlands still lacked World Cup validation.

For one of them, the time has come.

"The history of football owes us this one," Spain defender Carlos Marchena said. "There have been great moments in our history [and] we have been through several great disappointments. Perhaps this time we are to change those bitter moments."

The Netherlands appeared in two consecutive finals in the 1970s before self-destruction became its hallmark. Until last week, Spain had never advanced beyond the quarterfinals.

The fact that one secured passage to this title game was not unexpected. After all, Spain won the 2008 European Championship and joined Brazil as World Cup favorites; the Netherlands was a darling choice after barreling through the qualifying process and rounding into form before its arrival in South Africa.

The fact that both made it this far, however, defied historical trends:

-- Brazil, Italy or Germany had been a finalist in every tournament except 1930 and '78, filling 20 of the 36 championship-game slots.

-- With two European teams in the title match, soccer's most distinguished confederation will finally win a World Cup on a foreign continent.

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