Johannesburg (AP) - Spain’s place among world
football’s all-time greatest teams was assured Sunday when Andres
Iniesta scored with four minutes of extra time remaining to beat the
Netherlands 1-0 and clinch his country’s first World Cup.
With the teams facing a penalty shootout after an
often ill-tempered game of few clear chances, Iniesta collected a
sliding pass into the area from substitute Cesc Fabregas and smashed the
ball across goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and in at the far post.
The goal clinched Spain’s fourth straight 1-0 victory
in South Africa and made the team only the third to be world and
European champion at the same time.
“This really is quite a cup,” Spain goalkeeper Iker
Casillas said. “The European Championship was the most important moment
of our lives, but today is much bigger than anything else.”
At the final whistle, the Spanish players hurried to
swap their blue shirts for their more familiar red colors in time to
collect the trophy. They donned shirts decorated with a single gold star
to mark their triumph, becoming the eighth nation to receive the honor
in the tournament’s 80-year history.
“I can’t quite believe it yet,” said Iniesta, who was
voted man of the match. “I had the opportunity to score that goal which
was so important to my team. It’s something absolutely incredible. I
simply made a small contribution to my team in a match that was very
The Dutch players trudged forlornly to collect their
runners-up medals, the third squad from the Netherlands to finish second
in football’s biggest game.
Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk took off his
silver medal as soon as he left the podium, with a look of disgust on
his face at having failed to better the “Total Football” generation that
lost the 1974 and ’78 finals.
“We had our plan and of course we tried to play our
football, but Spain is a very great team with a lot of great players,”
Netherlands winger Arjen Robben said. “We tried to stop them
offensively. We’ve done everything we could today.”
It was a less-than-classic performance by Spain and
both teams created few clear chances at Soccer City, although the game
opened up slightly after a cagey opening hour. The Netherlands broke up
Spain’s attempts to get their famous passing game going with physical
play that brought nine yellow cards.
Defender John Heitinga got his second yellow and was
sent off in the 19th minute of extra time to become only the fifth man
to get a World Cup final red card.
With Spain also collecting five yellows, the total
beat the 1986 record of six between Argentina and West Germany and made
it the dirtiest World Cup final of all time.
“There were all sorts of things happening on the
pitch,” Iniesta said.
Extra time was littered with almost as many chances
as normal time. Stekelenburg saved a low shot by Fabregas before Robben
was blocked and defender Joris Mathijsen headed over at the other end.
With Wesley Sneijder crowded out and Spain striker
David Villa continually forced wide in search of possession, Robben
looked the most likely player to put the finishing touch to his team’s
uncompromisingly physical approach.
The winger broke free in the 62nd minute but his low
shot to the far post was brilliantly kept out with the toe of Casillas’
He was clear again with seven minutes of normal time
remaining, collecting Robin van Persie’s flick from Nigel de Jong’s
hopeful punt forward. Robben held off Carles Puyol’s attempts to wrestle
him to the ground and tried to take the ball across Casillas, only for
the goalkeeper to gather it at the forward’s feet.
Villa and Sneijder had few chances to add to their
five tournament goals, the latter unable to find his range with free
kicks and most notable for the sliding pass between Spain’s central
defenders that set Robben free in the 62nd minute.
Villa went closest in the 70th when Stekelenburg
somehow knocked his close-range finish over the bar, shortly before
Sergio Ramos headed over the bar while unmarked.
Villa, Sneijder, Uruguay striker Diego Forlan and
Germany forward Thomas Mueller tied at the top of the tournament scoring
charts with five goals from seven matches. Mueller took the golden boot
for the leading scorer, winning because of the number of assists he
provided. Germany beat Uruguay 3-2 in Saturday’s third place play-off
The Netherlands’ physical approach in the final only
began after their attempts to defend deep in the opening exchanges
allowed Spain 60 percent of possession and gave away chances.
Stekelenburg had to dive at full stretch to keep out a header by Ramos,
and Villa broke free of the defense only for the Netherlands to be saved
by a narrow offside call.
The Dutch responded by pressing hard whichever
Spanish player happened to be in possession, heralding a spell of five
yellow cards - three of them for the Netherlands - in 14 minutes.
De Jong was lucky not to get a red card when he
slammed his boot into Xabi Alonso’s chest.
“They made it very difficult for us to play
comfortably,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “It was a very
But one incident showed the Dutch fouls were perhaps
down to surplus passion rather than a premeditated mean streak.
Casillas threw the ball upfield and out to allow
Puyol to receive treatment after a heavy fall. In keeping with sporting
convention, the Netherlands attempted to return possession to the
Spanish but the punt back to Casillas deflected up off the turf and
forced the goalkeeper to tip it behind for a corner.
Not a single Netherlands player went forward for the
corner kick and Van Persie just rolled it along the ground for Casillas
to pick up.
“Our fouls may be sad for a final,” Van Marwijk said,
“(but) I would have loved to win it with not so beautiful football.”