DUBAI // The romantics wanted Ghana. Historians would have liked a Holland versus Germany grudge match. And many fans of the Beautiful Game wanted Brazil or Argentina.
But in the end, tonight's World Cup final will be between Holland and Spain, guaranteeing that a new name will be engraved on the base of the famous gold trophy. Spanish fans remain very cautious about tonight's final, despite their country being the reigning European Champions and one of the favourites to win. Cristina Martin Munoz, from Salamanca, a city in south-westerm Spain, said: "I am not making any predictions now; we've been very humble all the way through the tournament and I don't think we should assume that we'll win.
"For Spain, the main player will be David Villa as always, and also [goalkeeper] Iker Casillas - he's amazing. The main danger for Holland will be Arjen Robben." "I've been very surprised at how many Spanish fans there are here, we didn't expect it. Also, after Brazil and Argentina lost, many who support them are now supporting Spain," said the 28-year-old Emirates airline crew member. "I watched the semi-final with my Spanish friends Amaia, who's from Bilbao, and Dana, who's from Burgos, at Barasti, and we'll be doing the same for the final. It's a great place to watch and we'll be heading down there early so we can get a good spot.
Angel Perez, a 30-year-old from Madrid, shares this caution. "Apart from the win against Germany on Wednesday, I wasn't too happy with how Spain have played. They've underperformed. Once again we will look to Villa to be our main danger man against Holland, who are a very solid team," said the vice-president and head of customer service at an international bank. "I was born in Germany and lived there for 20 years, but both my parents are Spanish and I am 100 per cent Spanish. I like Germany, but I was happy we beat them."
English fans and the British media might consider the Germans their historical football enemy, but the rivalry between Germany and Holland is far more bitter. "I would rather have played Germany in the final than Spain," said 30-year-old Niek Blok, a Dutch national living in Dubai. "They are our main rivals, and it would have been a perfect revenge match after what happened in 1974." The World Cup final of 1974 is famous for the 2-1 defeat of Holland's legendary football team by West Germany in Munich.
Led by Johan Cruyff, that team has since been labelled the greatest side never to have won the World Cup. Holland also lost the final to Argentina in 1978, but Blok is confident the time has finally come to put lingering disappointments to bed. "We have a very steady team who have played with each other for a long time, coming up through the youth system. They really seem to enjoy playing with each other, which is maybe a little different from Dutch teams of the past. Mark Van Bommel will be very important in the final, and of course Wesley Sneijder has been our best player. The final will be a great opportunity for Robin Van Persie to finally perform; he's only scored one goal so far so this could be his match."
Blok, a project manager at Danzas AEI Emirates, said he had been surprised by the weight of support the Dutch have been getting in the UAE, and especially in Dubai. "The atmosphere has been great," he said. "We have a big Dutch community here, and everyone really makes an effort to wear the orange colours, especially at the Emirates Golf Club, which is the home of the Holland fans. It's been like watching the games back home."
Unlike the Spanish fans, Blok has no trouble predicting tonight's outcome: "Holland 2, Spain 1. Third time lucky for us." This confidence is shared by 23-year-old Bernard Senekal, a native of Holland who works in sales and marketing at Magniflex Mattresses in Dubai. "I know many make Spain favourites, but I'm sure we'll win," he said. "It will be a very close match, but it will not go to penalties. Holland will win 1-0 with a very late goal."
There is no doubting on whose shoulders Holland's hopes are resting, according to Senekal. "Arjen Robben has been amazing in the recent matches; he will definitely be our main hope. [Robin] Van Persie might start on the bench, but I really hope he finally comes good at the World Cup." Watching the matches around Dubai has been the highlight of the World Cup for Senekal. "The atmosphere has been just incredible. I've watched the games at many different places, like Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Barasti, where many of the Dutch fans go, and it's been incredible. Everyone seems to be so happy and enjoying themselves, and fans who are from countries not even competing have been getting involved. Some of these nights might as well have been in South Africa." Tonight's match kicks off at 10.30pm. @Email:email@example.com