12 July 2010
The curtain came down on the 2010 Fifa World Cup in spectacular fashion at Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium on Sunday, with a stunning closing ceremony and an eye-catching display of fireworks after the completion of the final, a tense affair which went into extra-time before Spain were crowned football champions of the world.
It was a tense affair, a contest more for the purists than the casual football fan. Neither Spain nor the Netherlands was prepared to give their opponents time on the ball and referee Howard Webb had his hands full as the tackles flew in and he dispensed cards.
Both teams are known for their ability to play beautiful, flowing football but, opposing one another, they made it awfully difficult to achieve that. So, while the final lacked somewhat in terms of aesthetic appeal, it certainly did not lack suspense.
There was a nasty edge to some of the tackling and the clash threatened to boil over at times. Referee Webb, in hindsight, did well to keep matters under control. Still, it took 14 yellow cards and the dismissal of Dutch defender Johnny Heitinga in extra time to keep matters under control.
Netherlands’ midfielder Nigel de Jong could easily have been dismissed earlier in the game when he caught Xabi Alonso flush in the chest with his studs, nowhere near the ball. It was a horrible tackle.
The truth be told, it was the Spanish trying to play the game more than the Dutch and it showed as the Netherlands picked up the majority of the cards.
All the pressure finally told in extra time when Andres Iniesta, the man of the match, finally settled the contest four minutes from the final whistle, beating Maarten Stekelenburg in the Dutch goal after being played in by substitute Cesc Fabregas.
‘It’s simply incredible’
“I can’t quite believe it yet,” said Iniesta. “I had the chance to score such an important goal for my team. It’s simply incredible.”
What the game showed is that Spain is able to impose its game on any opponent. They dominated possession in every match they played and even though they struggled to score throughout the tournament, they were clearly the side that dictated play. They also conceded only two goals, equalling the record for the fewest given up by a World Cup winner.
That was the thing when facing Spain: the opposition might get, at most, three goal-scoring opportunities in a match and if they didn’t take any of those, well, Spain would have more goal-scoring opportunities and find the back of the net.
In fact, quite remarkably, they won all four of their matches in the knockout stages of the World Cup by a margin of 1-0: over Portugal, Paraguay, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Those four straight clean sheets helped Spanish captain Iker Casillas win the Golden Glove, awarded to the tournament’s top goalkeeper. Along the way, he needed a penalty save against the Paraguayans to keep his record perfect in the playoffs.
With Xavi and Andres Iniesta pulling the strings, and the advantage of more than half the starting eleven playing for Barcelona, Spain were superb in midfield.
Their ability to hold onto the ball never came close to being matched. It was best displayed in the semi-finals against Germany who had delighted with their free-flowing football and thrice scored four goals in a game on their way to the semi-finals. Against the Euro 2008 winners, their attacking edge was blunted.
After receiving the World Cup from South African President Jacob Zuma and Fifa President Sepp Blatter, an astonishing fireworks display accompanied Spain as they made their way onto the field to celebrate. Despite the eye-catching display going on above their heads, they had eyes only for the precious World Cup which Spain had finally won for a first time.
Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque commented later: “The dressing room is delighted, ecstatic. But Spain, the country, deserves this triumph, this World Cup.
“This goes beyond sport. We have to celebrate. All the people have been behind us in Spain, and we’re delighted to reward them with this victory.”
By winning the World Cup, Spain joined Germany’s 1974 World Cup winners (then known as West Germany) as the only reigning European champion to also win the World Cup.
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