Day of destiny is calling for the humble, brilliant stars of Spain

Tomorrow they could be hailed as one of the greatest teams of all. Today they relax

On the bumpy road from Johannesburg to Kimberley lies the small university town of Potchefstroom, an unremarkable little place that, for the last five weeks, has been home to the football team that would rule the world.

Spain have already proved themselves to be one of the greatest international teams of this generation; if they beat Holland in the World Cup final tomorrow then even that status might be due an upgrade. Among the greatest international sides of all time? It would not be unthinkable, not with a group of players, predominantly from the great current Barcelona team, who have redefined the way we think about the game.

It is that kind of reputation that makes a visit to their World Cup headquarters so surprising. They are staying in a modest hotel next to a university campus athletics track where the grass is yellow from neglect. On a scrap of worn grass by the metal bleachers of the Fanie du Toit sports stadium some of the best footballers in the world wander around speaking to friends. The squad give their press conferences in what looks like an old school hall.

This was the great Spain team of 2010 yesterday; Carles Puyol talking to the man from the regional Catalan paper, Joan Capdevila chatting with his native Galician radio station. To say that they were low-key in their approach would be putting it mildly. They are already European champions and the majority of them play for Real Madrid or Barcelona but there is something appealingly ordinary about them.

There is an amateurishness about the Spain set-up that makes a pleasing contrast to the corporate blandness of so much of the World Cup finals. The woman with the clipboard who informs the fourth official of the substitutions? She doubles up as an auxiliary press officer. The highlight of the YouTube footage of Queen Sofia visiting the team in the dressing room after the Germany game is Puyol walking in with just his towel on.

As ever with Spain the talk yesterday was of Barcelona, who will provide six of their likely starting line-up tomorrow, plus their new signing David Villa. And if it is Barcelona who dictate the way that Spain play, then by extension that is the influence of the Dutch players and managers who have shaped that club. Sergio Busquets, the Barcelona and Spain holding midfielder, said as much when he discussed the effect of the 4-3-3 system on Spanish football.

"At my club Louis van Gaal and Johan Cruyff did a great job and brought through players from the academy because it's a philosophy that they have," Busquets said. "Frank Rijkaard also introduced the 4-3-3 system and was the one who started this style of play at Barcelona which was transferred to the national team. It's an important part, not just of the national team but certainly for Barça's philosophy."

It would take an entire thesis to explain the Dutch effect on Barcelona, beginning with Cruyff and Rinus Michels through Ronald Koeman, Patrick Kluivert and Rijkaard, which leaves out plenty of great Dutch-Barça names along the way. The Dutch might have given Barcelona, and indirectly Spain, their accomplished 4-3-3 formation but tomorrow the worry is that Holland will be unconcerned with beautiful football.

Already Arjen Robben, of all Dutchmen, is talking about winning "ugly". The Spanish also assume that Howard Webb, the English referee, will be more likely to wave play on for the kind of tackles that usually get a free-kick in La Liga. And probably worrying them most of all is the disruptive potential of Holland's hard man Mark van Bommel, for one season an enforcer at Barça.

Busquets is as close to a Van Bommel-type of holding midfielder that Spain have and he said yesterday that he expected Holland to "play their football". He added: "That won't depend on how to stop us. Clearly they will prepare how to stop us but they won't get obsessed with it because they also have their style of play. Each team will try to impose their style and play their trump cards."

The Barcelona man was among those Spain players who fell victim to South Africa's enormous petty crime problem this week, when wallets and money were stolen from rooms. Busquets came up with a nice line about how he would happily "swap my wallet for the World Cup" but the parallels were obvious. Spain do not want to leave on Monday feeling they have been robbed again.

There can be no denying that Vicente del Bosque has been presented with a phenomenally talented group of footballers. Barcelona's status as the most complete team on the planet, despite their Champions League defeat by Internazionale in May, and the triumph at Euro 2008 brings extreme pressure. Any manager who can leave out Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas in his country's first World Cup semi-final has serious resources at his disposal.

It has not helped Del Bosque that Luis Aragones, Spain's coach in 2008, had been heavily critical of the team's performances until their win over Germany in the semi-final. Since then even the cantankerous Aragones has conceded that Spain are the team to beat. But the pressure is still there, and the fall-out from defeat will be enormous.

In Spain the bite of the global economic crisis is taking hold and captain Iker Casillas said yesterday that beating Holland would be a means of giving the Spanish people respite from their problems. "History shows us that Spain has had great moments but luck was not on our side," the veteran centre-back Carlos Marchena said. "We've had great disappointments without deserving it and now maybe this era is repaying us for the bitter moments we tasted and hopefully [tomorrow] we get the best moment in history."

Marchena, 30, who has lost his place in the team to Barcelona's Gerard Pique, said yesterday that the Barça core gave the national team "a guarantee". Above all yesterday, Marchena seemed to embody the unpretentious good sense of this Spain side. Someone mentioned to him that the German octopus had predicted that Spain would win. "Well," he said, "it is just an octopus."

Two finalists dominate shortlist for Golden Ball

Spain and the Netherlands have five players between them nominated for Fifa's Golden Ball award to the World Cup's best player.

Not surprisingly, top scorers David Villa (above) for Spain and Wesley Sneijder for Holland – both with five goals so far ahead of tomorrow's final – are on the list of 10 nominees. Spain's Andres Iniesta and Xavi also figure, while the Dutch winger Arjen Robben was nominated too by Fifa's technical study group.

Completing the list are Argentina's Lionel Messi, Uruguay's Diego Forlan, Ghana's Asamoah Gyan, and German pair Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger. The winner will be announced after the final.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot