Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Little guys are the giants this time round

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The giants of the World Cup have turned out to be the little guys. Spaniards Andries Iniesta, Xavi and David Villa, plus Dutchman Wesley Sneijder, have stolen the show.

These diminutive stars might cost a lot, but they look like blokes who could get in for half-price.

Even Spain's goal-scoring hero from their controlled demolition of Germany in the semifinal, the 1.78m Carles Puyol, is relatively short for a central defender.

The two countries involved in Monday morning's final are also small in some respects, being famous for what they haven't achieved in the World Cup.

The mesmerising Iniesta is my man of the tournament so far.

His combination with Barcelona teammate Xavi will live long in the memory.

Should Spain triumph, as I hope they do, then these little magicians will be linked to the World Cup forever in the same way as others such as Pele and Maradona.

German coach Joachim Loew did himself proud when, despite the disappointment of defeat, he labelled Spain as masters of the game.

As the semifinal unfolded, with the Spanish midfield zigzagging the ball back and forth among each other and away from the bewildered Germans, I wondered how a coach like Loew would react. Germany were the most obviously coached side in the tournament - Loew lifted his young team to heights few had predicted. You felt sure that such an astute coach could only admire his Spanish opponents, as he did.

Iniesta is an absolute marvel. The ball swirls around his feet like a puppy on a very short leash, but with a sharp pass always in the offing.

The angles and patterns he, Xavi, the deep-lying Xabi Alonso and friends weave are astonishing.

They often roll the ball tantalisingly close to opponents, but never too close.

They are products of Barcelona, the famous club from the fiercely independent Catalan region, where Iniesta and Xavi have been nurtured since their early teens.

Xavi operates in a central role. Iniesta pops up everywhere - he was often advanced on the left against the Germans - and will use his peerless dribbling to snipe into the penalty box.

Known as the "Illusionist", Iniesta is famously shy and modest - traits Sneijder could never be accused of.

Sneijder's scoring has been pivotal to Holland's progress, although there has been a touch of luck to a couple of his goals.

There is an overly romantic view of Dutch soccer because the game has long lamented that their glorious side of the 1970s - particularly the team of 1974 - failed to win the World Cup.

Spain lack an explosive quality, but in an age of petulant superstardom their unique midfield mastery and humble demeanour is a joy.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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