Spain left it until the final four minutes of extra-time before a controversial Andres Iniesta volley gave them their first World Cup title.
Style triumphs for Spain in end against Holland
JOHANNESBURG // Spain left it until the final four minutes of extra-time before a controversial Andres Iniesta volley gave them their first World Cup championship. With regular time ending 0-0, Johnny Heitinga, the Holland defender, was given a second yellow card for fouling Iniesta. But it was a wrong call some 25 minutes later by referee Howard Webb that led to the only goal of the match. After Wesley Sneijder's free-kick struck the shoulder of a Spanish defender to sail wide of the goal, Webb signalled for a goal-kick and the Spanish keeper Iker Casillas's long punt was eventually worked through to Iniesta, who volleyed sharply past Maarten Stekelenburg to send the Spanish players and supporters into euphoria.
It was no more than Spain deserved after playing the better football of a match that grew increasingly ill-tempered and was hindered by constant fouling. Fourteen yellow cards were shown, a sorry record for a World Cup final. In the fifth minute, Sergio Ramos, the Spain right-back was first to Xavi's cross, heading powerfully towards the goal and forcing a superb reaction save from Stekelenburg. But as the game settled, what should have been a devastating duel between two passing sides, turned into a midfield fight.
Webb was forced to show five yellow cards inside the first half hour and both Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong could have seen their finals ended early were it not for the Englishman's lenience. Holland's tough-tackling, harrying approach prevented Spain from playing to their full capabilities, but it was also ruining the spectacle. The closest either team came to opening the scoring in the first half arrived on the stroke of half-time, when Arjen Robben tested Casillas from distance, but the Real Madrid goalkeeper turned the ball behind for a corner.
Spain tried repeatedly to unlock the Dutch defence, but were restricted by ill-timed challenges that, again, forced Webb to brandish his yellow card twice more inside the first 20 minutes of the second half. For all Spain's possession, however, they failed to genuinely threaten Stekelenburg and it was Holland who had the more incisive attacks. Vicente del Bosque, the Spanish coach, replaced the ineffective Pedro with Jesus Navas, before Robben almost gave Holland the breakthrough.
The Bayern Munich winger collected a defence-splitting pass from Sneijder and found himself clean through on goal, but Robben's composed finish struck the toe of Casillas to bounce wide of the upright. Navas's introduction seemed to give Spain an added dimension. When the Sevilla wideman's driving cross evaded Heitinga to fall at the feet of David Villa, the tournament's joint top scorer with five goals, a Spanish opener seemed certain.
Heitinga, however, somehow recovered to throw himself in front of the strike and see the ball out for a corner. Moments later and Ramos should have given his side the lead from a corner, but his free header from seven yards sailed over. For the second successive game, Del Bosque found himself with a dilemma: a packed midfield allows his side to dominate without a goal threat, while introducing a second striker reduces the team's ability to retain possession and create chances.
With five minutes remaining, he replaced Xabi Alonso with the more attack-minded Cesc Fabregas, but the Arsenal captain could not prevent the arrival of a tense, 30-minute period of extra time. Fabregas had his side's best chance saved by the legs of Stekelenburg, while Joris Mathijsen's header seconds later flew over Casillas's crossbar. Spain were attacking in waves and Holland were defending for their lives.
Iniesta then hesitated when through on goal, allowing Giovanni van Bronckhorst enough time to block the shot, then Navas's strike from the right channel came off the leg of the Dutch captain to nestle in the side netting. Rafael van der Vaart and Edson Braafheid came on for De Jong and Van Bronckhorst as the Dutch threw their final roll of the dice. Likewise, Del Bosque introduced Fernando Torres in place of Villa, who had cut a lonely figure in attack.
The game swung however, when Iniesta, who had been his side's instrumental player for most of the game, burst through and Heitinga was adjudged to haul him down. The Everton defender was shown a second yellow and Spain found themselves with a golden opportunity to capitalise. In the final seconds, Sneijder's free-kick struck a Spanish defender to sail out for a corner, but Webb signalled for a goal-kick. Casillas's long ball eventually fell to the feet of Iniesta who, with just minutes left of extra time, buried emphatically before unveiling a T-shirt dedicating the goal to Dani Jarque, the former Espanyol captain who died of a heart-attack last year . @Email:email@example.com Man of the match: Andres Iniesta
The Uruguay striker Diego Forlan was named World Cup player of the tournament to win the Golden Ball after a vote by international media. Thomas Mueller won the Golden Boot awarded by Fifa. Forlan polled 23.4 per cent of the vote after finishing the World Cup as joint leading scorer with five goals as Uruguay came fourth. The Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder was second with 21.8 per cent and Spain's David Villa third.