It certainly won’t go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest World Cup finals; nonetheless, it was a triumph for football as Spain became World champions for the very first time. In doing so they become only the third side to hold the Euro and World Cup titles at the same time – a feat which was previously achieved by Germany in 1972/1974 and France in 1998/2000.
We nearly had to go right down to the wire to find our winners but Spain found their required bit of magic to hold-off the Dutch in the end when Andres Iniesta stepped up his game found the back of the net in 116 minute of the game.
From the off, Holland knew what they were doing. They had obviously watched back Spain’s semi-final victory over Germany and saw that the Germans laid off the Spanish far too much – thus doing the opposite, taking the game to Spain – attacking them and pressingly highly up the field.
By the same token, so did Spain but the Dutch back four worked the offside trap very well with David Villa being caught offside many times in the first-half. Spain’s best chance of the half came in the fourth minute – Ramos was fouled on the right wing – Xavi floated in the resulting free-kick which met the head of the aforementioned Ramos, his powering header forced a great save from Stekelenburg in the Dutch goal.
Up until the 14th minute the football was free flowing – then referee Howard Webb dished out the first yellow card of many to Robin Van Persie, one could say it went downhill from there. Carles Puyol, Mark van Bommel, Sergio Ramos and Nigel de Jong had all found their way into Webb’s book before half-time. As it began to look inevitable that we would see a red card before the night was out.
Webb was clamping down of these cynical fouls, but he could have done a lot more and indeed a lot better. The only route to goal for either side looked to be from a set-piece. Holland managed to cancel out Spain’s early chance in the closing minutes of the first-half – Arjen Robben testing Iker Casillas who was alert, as always.
In truth it was a poor quality first-half, it certainly wasn’t a captivating one at all, if you were expecting goals then immediately this game was not for you. As the second-half began Spain were on the attack right away. Carles Puyol, who scored the goal that helped them reached the final, had a header from a corner which fell to Joan Capdevila who totally miss-kicked it.
Once again, after the break the cards began to build up, Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst and team-mate John Heitinga found their way into the book – after yet more cynical fouling – Capdevila and Robben also had their names taken in the second-half as the total number of bookings hit nine.
Easily, the best chance of the game fell to Holland just after the hour mark – Arjen Robben received a through-ball from Wesley Sneijder down the middle, he managed to beat Pique and get in front of him before going one on one with Casillas, who saved with his leg. He later had a similar chance which was also saved by Spain’s man of the match for me – Iker Casillas.
Spain also managed a chance and went very, very close when Sergio Ramos – totally unmarked in the Dutch penalty area headed clean over from seven yards. Another chance wasted. Both sides felt the need for change, as Pedro, was replaced by Jesus Navas, while the Dutch shuffled the deck taking off Dirk Kuyt and bringing on Elijero Elia.
As full-time approached, Spain felt the need to make another substitution as Xabi Alonso made way for Cesc Fabregas – only on the field a matter of minutes and the Arsenal man forces another great save from Stekelenburg. After 90 minutes it ended as we started – all square and as extra-time begun there were many tired legs on the field.
The sides continued the trend of cancelling one another out when Joris Mathijsen went close from a corner, but like many before him, he headed clean over without testing the keeper.
As penalties were beginning to look an inevitability, the two teams made further changes in extra-time – de Jong and van Bronckhort both went off for Holland and were replaced by van der Vaart and Braafheid, while Spain took the risk of substituting David Villa and brought on Fernando Torres.
The inevitable red-card came in the 109 minute when Heitinga, who had been booked previously, pulled back Iniesta on the edge of the area. Harsh? No. He can have no complaints for being sent-off, it was deserved. Four more yellow cards were dished out in this period – van der Wiel, Mathijsen, Xavi and Iniesta the offenders in this round.
However, the latter card was given to Iniesta for removing his shirt during the celebration of the goal. Just when it looked as if we were heading to a penalty shoot-out, Spain found the back of the net with just four minutes remaining in extra-time.
Torres, Fabregas and Iniesta were all involved in the build-up but it was the latter who found the net – an instinctive pass from Fabregas found Iniesta who was onside and round the back of the Dutch defence before slotting it into the bottom left corner of Stekelenburg’s net and as they say – the rest is indeed history.
It was Spain who re-wrote history last night. They became the first team to lose the opening game and still go on to lift the trophy. Seven names were already upon the World Cup roll of honour – Uruguay, Italy, Germany, Brazil, England, Argentina and France who have all previously etched their name into history, and now Spain can become the eight member of that elite club.
Many will agree, that over the past two years Spain have been, by far the best team in the world and last night proved that. Some may not like the way they play at times, but you can’t really please everybody. So, as the World Cup draws to a close for another four years – Spain have finally lifted the tag of perennial underachievers from around their neck and become the winners of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.