Thumbnails of players likely to be appearing in Sunday’s World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain:
Maarten Stekelenburg: The Ajax goalkeeper who came through a tough period last season to hold his place as the successor to the Netherlands most-capped international, Edwin van der Sar. Pulled off one of the best saves of the World Cup when he denied Kaka in the Netherlands’ quarterfinal win over Brazil.
Gregory van der Wiel: Speedy Ajax right back who tackles well and likes to come forward and cross from the right flank. Coach Bert van Marwijk credited his second-half performance against Brazil with helping to turn the quarterfinal the Oranje’s way. His name is being linked to big clubs in Europe as a possible post-World Cup transfer target.
John Heitinga: Only 26, the Everton center back has already played 60 internationals and is at the heart of a defense that has conceded just four goals in six matches at the World Cup. He is strong in the air and likes to move forward at set pieces. Has scored six international goals.
Joris Mathijsen: Heitinga’s partner in the center of the Netherlands defense. The Hamburg player would have started all six matches in South Africa, but pulled out of the quarterfinal against Brazil just minutes before kick off because of a knee injury. Started his career at Willem II in Tilburg, then transferred to AZ Alkmaar before moving to Germany.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst: One of the Netherlands most capped players with 106 appearances, the 35-year-old left back and captain will end his playing career in the World Cup final. Scored a goal with a searing 35-yard drive to give the Netherlands the lead against Uruguay in the semifinals for only his sixth international goal. Started and ended his club career with Feyenoord, but the well-traveled Van Bronckhorst also has played for Rangers, Arsenal and Barcelona, where the team won the Champions League.
Nigel de Jong: Burly Manchester City midfielder is part of the twin defensive towers of the Netherlands midfield with Mark van Bommel. His tough tackling and quick passing has added steel to the center of the field, freeing up the more creative midfielders to launch attacks.
Mark van Bommel: Van Marwijk’s first move as Netherlands coach was to bring back Van Bommel – his son-in-law – to the Dutch fold. The Bayern Munich captain is an uncompromising tackler but is also quick to distribute the ball and marshall the team. He seems to be the most likely candidate to take over as Netherlands captain after Van Bronckhorst retires.
Wesley Sneijder: Creative and tenacious midfielder who is having a career-defining season with Inter Milan and the Netherlands after being dumped by Real Madrid. Won the Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League with Inter and has unexpectedly emerged as the Netherlands’ top scorer of the World Cup with five goals, including both second-half strikes in the come-from-behind win over Brazil.
Arjen Robben: Mercurial dribbler who has had one of the best seasons of his career for Bayern Munich, scoring crucial goals in the German club’s drive to the Champions League final. His trademark is to cut inside from the right wing and fire curling left-foot shots into the far corner of the goal. Injured his left hamstring on the eve of the World Cup but returned to rejuvenate the sputtering Dutch front line in South Africa. Has been accused of diving to win free kicks.
Robin van Persie: Talented Arsenal striker who has struggled at the World Cup and scored just one goal, though his intelligent running off the ball has created space for others to exploit. He appears to be still struggling after returning from an ankle ligament injury that sidelined him for five months this season. Has 19 goals in 50 games for the Netherlands.
Dirk Kuyt: The tireless Liverpool winger symbolizes the new Dutch style of play that values effort and teamwork over individual flair. A versatile forward who can play on either wing or in the striker’s position. Has scored 16 goals in 69 appearances for his country.
Iker Casillas: Spain’s captain and a fixture in goal for both country and club (Real Madrid) for the past decade, Casillas is almost always listed in any discussion of the world’s best goalkeepers, along with Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon and Brazil’s Julio Cesar. With 110 caps, Casillas trails only former goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta’s 126 appearances for Spain.
Sergio Ramos: Having begun his career as a center back, Ramos has developed into a scoring threat at right back for both Spain and Real Madrid. He has scored 22 goals in four Spanish league seasons at Madrid.
Carles Puyol: The curly-haired center back’s leaping 73rd-minute header against Germany sealed Spain’s spot in the final. At 32, the Barcelona captain is one of Spain’s most dependable veterans.
Gerard Pique: The Barcelona center back is one of only three players who have appeared in every minute of Spain’s six matches thus far. At 23, he is one of the new additions to Spain’s squad after its European Championship title and he showed he belongs by scoring the only goal in a win over Turkey in a World Cup qualifier last year. It was only his second appearance.
Joan Capdevila: The Villarreal left back is one of the only members of Spain’s lineup who doesn’t play for Barcelona or Real Madrid. The 32-year-old failed to make Spain’s squad at the last World Cup but made it back in time for the Euro 2008 triumph. He has also played all 540 minutes.
Sergio Busquets: At 21, the youngest starter for Spain is also one of the squad’s top ball-winners and will likely be handed the job of containing Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder. The son of former Barcelona goalkeeper Carles Busquets is another addition who joined Spain’s side after the Euro 2008 title.
Xabi Alonso: Having won over an international audience in five seasons at Liverpool, the defensive midfield stalwart moved to Real Madrid at the start of last season, where he gained a new nickname – La Barba Roja (The Red Beard). He possesses a fierce shot that is dangerous from any distance.
Xavi Hernandez: Known simply as Xavi, he is the midfield maestro who orchestrates Spain’s seamless passing game. A Catalan who has been a fixture with his native Barcelona since his youth playing days, he was voted the best player at Euro 2008.
Andres Iniesta: Another highly talented Barcelona product, Iniesta is capable of playing in any midfield position and can also pitch in to the attack when needed, as evidenced by his goal against Chile in the group stage.
David Villa: Tied with Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder for the tournament scoring lead with five goals, Villa was also the leading scorer at Euro 2008 with four. His scoring record is what prompted Barcelona to pay a reported $50 million to Valencia just before the World Cup. He is one goal away from matching Raul Gonzalez’s Spain record of 44 career goals.
Fernando Torres: While he appears to be suffering a crisis of confidence and hasn’t scored in this tournament – and began on the bench in the semifinal win over Germany – El Nino (The Kid) can never be ignored. The forward’s strike was the only goal in Spain’s 1-0 win over Germany in the Euro 2008 final, and in three seasons at Liverpool he has scored 56 goals in 79 Premier League matches.
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