Spain triumphed over the Netherlands to win their first ever World Cup. Andres Iniesta scored the winning goal late in extra time after the Dutch had seen John Heitinga dismissed.
Sergio Ramos had the first chance of the World Cup final in the fifth minute, meeting Xavi’s freekick on the penalty spot but seeing his header parried away by Maarten Stekelenburg diving low to his right. Ramos beat Kuyt on the right of the Dutch area and fired low across goal and Heitinga was fortunate to see his attempted clearance go over the crossbar after 11 minutes. A minute later, David Villa volleyed into the side netting from beyond the far post. Joris Mathijsen miskicked when well placed after a corner routine arrived at his feet after 37 minutes. Pedro Rodriguez burst through the middle in the 38th minute, cutting on to his left foot but scuffing his 25 yard effort well wide. Arjen Robben forced a save from Casillas lowdown at his near post in first half stoppage time after the Netherlands had done well to keep their attack alive.
Joan Capdevila hit an airshot at the back post three minutes after the break after Carles Puyol had flicked a corner on. Casillas again saved down low at his near post from Robben after the Dutchman cut in on to his left foot and shot from 25 yards. Robin van Persie headed over under pressure from Puyol after 61 minutes before Robben wasted a glorious chance a minute later. Robben beat the offside trap and was clear on goal but Casillas stuck out a boot to deflect his shot behind. Spain were very close to going ahead after 69 minutes after John Heitinga missed Jesus Navas’ low ball across goal. David Villa pounced to finish from close range but Heitinga somehow recovered to divert it over. Ramos had a wonderful opportunity to put the Spanish in front after 77 minutes, but he put his free header from a corner over the bar.
Cesc Fabregas wasted a great chance to score five minutes into extra time. Running on to Iniesta’s through ball, he failed to beat Stekelenburg who stayed big and stuck out a leg. A minute later, Mathijsen headed over at the back post after Casillas got nowhere near a corner. In the 101st minute, Navas saw his shot deflected into the side netting by Giovanni van Bronckhorst with Stekelenburg beaten. Fabregas powered through the middle of the Dutch side after 104 minutes but his shot from the edge of the box went wide. Heitinga received his marching orders after 109 minutes, picking up a second yellow for pulling down Iniesta outside the area. Iniesta won the World Cup for Spain with four minutes remaining of the second period of extra time. Fabregas played him through after the Dutch failed to clear and he fired across Stekelenburg and into the far corner.
The Netherlands had promised to stifle Spain before the game, and they began to deliver on their word having been outplayed for the first 15 minutes. The Dutch were highly fortunate that English referee Howard Webb was in a lenient mood with their tackling at best described as industrial, at worst as thuggery. Webb has demonstrated a fondness for a yellow card at the World Cup but has been keen to keep his red in his pocket and was no different tonight until he had little choice but to send off Heitinga in extra time. Mark van Bommel was the first beneficiary, escaping with just a caution after an awful lunge from behind on Iniesta. Van Bommel has benefited from a huge amount of refereeing leniency at this tournament and could have seen a second yellow on numerous occasions. Nigel de Jong then got away with just a booking for planting his studs in the chest of Xabi Alonso challenging for a high ball. The string of Dutch assaults enabled them to disrupt the flow of the Spanish passing game in a disjointed first half.
In among the scrappiness, there was at least one bit of good sportsmanship befitting the occasion. The Netherlands returned the ball from the halfway line after an injury, kicking it long towards Casillas. The Spanish keeper misjudged the bounce of the ball and could only get fingertips to it, diverting it behind. The Dutch did not contest the resultant corner, with van Persie playing it straight to Casillas to complete their original gesture of giving the ball back to Spain. The incident typified Casillas’ below par form at the World Cup, the usually reliable keeper having seen mistakes creeping into his game. With Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes breathing down his neck, the Spanish captain can ill-afford to slip up, but he showed his worth with a fantastic stop when getting his right boot to Robben’s finish when he was clean through in the second half. Despite his sometimes indifferent form, he will have taken great delight in lifting the trophy.
The match improved somewhat in the second half, with the Dutch midfield enforcers walking too much of a tightrope to be quite so firm in the challenge. The game was still not particularly open, with the best chances coming from corners and from runs in behind high defensive lines. It was in extra time that things finally opened up, with Bert van Marwijk finally switching to a more adventurous game for his side. Rafael van der Vaart was introduced for de Jong to add more creativity to the Dutch midfield, with Fabregas and Mathijsen having already squandered great opportunities to win their respective teams the game before his arrival. Heitinga’s dismissal left Netherlands a man short at the back, and Spain finally claimed a deserved winner through Iniesta soon after.
The Spanish have not quite shown their peak form at this World Cup but on balance the best side in the competition have ended up with the trophy. They recovered from a shock defeat in their first game to Switzerland and have won six straight games to earn their trophy. Other sides such as Germany, Argentina and Uruguay have played some very attractive and ruthless football in periods but none of them could keep their high standards up throughout. If Spain have not scored the amount of goals that their dominance in games should warrant, they have remained very hard to beat by controlling possession and wearing down opponents. They withheld the overly physical Dutch approach to keep playing their patient style and the world of football has been rewarded with a result worthy of the beautiful game.
Netherlands – Stekelenburg, van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst (Braafheid 105), Kuyt (Elia 70), van Bommel, Sneijder, De Jong (van der Vaart 99), Robben, Van Persie
Spain – Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevilla, Xabi Alonso (Fabregas 87), Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pedro (Jesus Navas 60), Villa (Torres 105)