JOHANNESBURG —The World Cup ends Sunday, and Paul the Octopus, the tournament's favorite psychic sea creature, can sink back into his aquarium tank in Oberhausen, Germany, and finally relax.
But if Paul can see the end of the road, the same is not yet true for the players of Spain and the Netherlands, who square off Sunday.
For them, it all comes down to 90 minutes — or perhaps 120 — that will determine whether they fly home as world champions or also-rans. The pressure is immense. Neither the Dutch nor the Spanish have won the World Cup, and the hopes and dreams of millions rest on the outcome.
So do the savings of more than a few who have wagered the odd dollar or two, but that's a financial matter. For most, it's a matter of national pride.
If the Netherlands wins, the team plane will be met as it crosses into Dutch airspace by an orange-painted fighter jet and escorted to Amsterdam. A floating victory parade is planned Tuesday in the city's famed canals.
If Spain wins, similar festivities are in the offing. To boost the chances of La Furia Roja walking off with the trophy, Rafael Nadal has winged his way in to lend his support, and Queen Sofia will be on hand to bestow the royal whatever-it-is — luck perhaps.
Good fortune or not, it will come down to one moment and one player who will score the decisive goal.
For the Netherlands, it could be winger Arjen Robben, after a mazy dribble and off that lethal left foot, or midfield creator Wesley Sneijder off either foot, or workhorse Dirk Kuyt off virtually any part of his body.
For Spain, it could be forward David Villa who scores off a through ball from Andres Iniesta, or Xabi Alonso who tucks the goal away off a pass from Xavi — the old Xavi-Xabi play on the chalkboard of X's and no O's — or even Carles Puyol with another dramatic header.
Both teams, in other words, are packed with attacking potential. The Spanish will not change their style just because they are in their first final. They will continue to possess the ball, swing it from player to player and bewitch and bewilder before they strike. Think cobras in cleats.
"We live and die by those ideas," Iniesta said. "We don't know any other way to play. So we'll try to do the same things in the final, and hopefully we'll have the luck to win it."
The Dutch will take a more plebian approach. Sure, Robben can dribble and Sneijder can dazzle, but utility man Kuyt personifies the team more than anyone with his nonstop effort and running, and by working equally hard on defense and offense. He can finish too.
Coach Bert van Marwijk has drilled discipline and organization into the Dutch players. They know their roles but also know when they can step out of those roles and pull a surprise.
"They're very similar to us, players of great technical ability in midfield," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "Players of great quality and very fast, that don't improvise as much as we do but play a more dangerous direct game."
The Netherlands has been here before and failed — in the 1974 and 1978 finals. That is why industry has been placed ahead of artistry.
"I'd rather play an extremely ugly game and win, instead of a beautiful one and lose," Robben said. "In the past, we heard often how beautiful it
was, but there was no payback."