RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Spain and the Netherlands played out one of the most disappointing World Cup finals in history four years ago. They get a chance to make amends right away in Brazil.
In one of the quirks of the draw for Brazil, Spain opens the defense of its title against the country it beat in the championship decider in Johannesburg four years ago.
But while Vicente Del Bosque’s team has stuck to its attacking philosophy, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal is packing his defense and hoping one of his three star forwards, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben or Wesley Sneijder, can snatch a goal on the counterattack in their Group B opener at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.
“I don’t think we’re capable at the moment of playing tiki-taka or beautiful football. In the end, it’s all about the result,” Robben said, referring to Spain and Barcelona’s quick-passing style of play. “The counter attack is a very dangerous weapon that we’re certainly going to use at this tournament.”
The Netherlands disappointed a lot of fans with its tough tackling in the Johannesburg final four years ago, which Spain won thanks to an extra-time goal from Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta. The match was marred by a flurry of cards — eight yellow and one red for the Dutch and five yellow for Spain.
But Van Gaal is not looking to win friends in Brazil, he wants to win matches and isn’t prepared to revert to his favored style of attacking “total football” that once earned the Dutch the reputation of the Brazilians of European football.
To do it, he will likely play five defenders, three midfielders and two men up front — his biggest stars, Manchester United striker Van Persie and Bayern Munich winger Robben.
“We want to make the space narrow” for Spain’s attackers, said Van Gaal, whose only previous match against Spain was in his first stint as Netherlands coach when his team won 2-1 in Seville in 2000.
While the Netherlands has undergone major changes since South Africa and is missing key midfielder Kevin Strootman through injury, Spain is largely unaltered, fit and has no plans to jettison a playing style that has won it so many plaudits in recent years.
Del Bosque’s men are looking to win their fourth straight major tournament and become the first nation to repeat as world champion after doing so as European champion. The Netherlands is still looking for its first world title after losing in three finals; the country’s sole international honor is the 1988 European Championship title.
“We need to keep focused and stick to the philosophy of playing style that has brought us so much success,” said in-form defender Sergio Ramos, fresh from his Champions League victory with Real Madrid. “We don’t need to change it, we just need to maintain maximum respect toward our opponent, which is something that has helped us reach the top.”
One major change for Spain from the teams’ meeting in the last World Cup is Del Bosque’s likely front man — Diego Costa instead of David Villa.
Costa scored 36 goals in all competitions for Spanish champion Atletico Madrid this season but has yet to make his mark in two appearances for Spain.
Costa said Tuesday he has fully recovered from a nagging hamstring injury that dogged him over the close of the club season and is ready to seize his chance for the defending champions in his native Brazil.
“Every day I feel better. I’m very motivated, I think I’m 100 percent and ready,” Costa said. “I can’t wait for the competition to start.”
The Dutch defense is out to put Costa and the other Spaniards off their game in an attempt to get off to a winning start. Australia and Chile play Friday in Group B’s other match in Cuiaba.
“I think they have the better players, we will have to be at the top of our game,” Dutch central defender Ron Vlaar told website Nu.nl. “We will play well and aggressively against Spain so they can’t find their rhythm.”
AP Sports Writer Paul Logothetis contributed to this report.
Follow Mike Corder on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mikecorder
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.