The final or bust. The Oranje have set lofty aims for their campaign in South Africa, 32 years after their 3-1 extra-time defeat by Argentina in the showpiece game, which itself came four years on from their 2-1 final loss to West Germany. Since the retirement of pioneering coach Rinus Michels, a multitude of players have followed in the footsteps of the Johan Cruyff generation without ever advancing as far as the final hurdle, though one particularly talented crop did claim the European title in 1988. Often seen as spectacular but mentally fragile, the Netherlands hope to banish that image under Bert van Marwijk, who took over in the wake of their disappointing UEFA EURO 2008 campaign.
He and his charges at least have history on their side this time around. The last team to reach a FIFA World Cup™ finals without dropping a single point in qualifying - West Germany in 1982 - went on to contest the final. The current Oranje vintage have made no efforts to conceal their ambitions and, once again, look on paper to have all the ingredients necessary to go far.
"We have a mission: that mission is to be champions of the world," Frank de Boer, assistant coach.
On a scale of one to ten, Spain's performance in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ can only be given top marks. On top of wins in each of their ten games, La Roja were the European Zone's second top scorers with 28 goals while conceding a miserly five at the other end. Maturity, resilience and the ability to overcome adversity were all in evidence during their campaign, and few national teams in world football are blessed with squads of such depth and sheer talent. The Iberians have not rested on the laurels of their UEFA EURO 2008 victory, consistently bringing in new faces without renouncing their commitment to attractive short-passing football.
"We've got good players and a well-oiled team, but there are some very strong sides out there. Our aim is to challenge for the next World Cup but we know how difficult it is. We're not the favourites but we are among the hopefuls." Vicente del Bosque, Spain coach.