Spain wins the World Cup, finally claiming a place among the elite of world soccer after beating the Netherlands by a single goal deep in extra-time to lift a first World Cup trophy to go with their European Championship trophy of two years ago.
The victory confirms them as the best team in the world in recent times, but in truth, they rarely touched the heights this month and today there was no repeat of the second half charge against Germany in the semifinal. The passing was not as slick and there was little of the authority that we have become accustomed to with Spain.
They become the lowest scoring champions in the competition’s history following four 1-0 victories during their progress through a tournament that only flickered into life and fell far short of what the football hype machine promised.
The man who won it for them was the best player on the field, Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta. He more than anyone else constantly sought the ball and, amid the rush, had the presence of mind to take up intelligent positions in space.
He had wasted two good chances before, but with just four minutes of extra time left, he was once again free, this time on the edge of the Dutch box, where Cesc Fabregas slipped him the ball. His first touch saw it spin up and then the midfielder hammered it past the excellent Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg to finally break the deadlock.
Dirty Dutch play
The Dutch were aggrieved, claiming a foul on the substitute Eljero Elia in the build-up, but few outside of Holland will have much sympathy for them. The Oranje were, in a word, filthy, and should have had one, maybe two players expelled before half time.
They came out hard, as if to beat the Spanish into submission and rattle them into poor play and overreaction as they had done to Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Early on, Dutch midfield bouncer Mark van Bommel escaped expulsion for a dirty, cynical foul that surprised no one who has followed his progress through the tournament as destroyer.
Despite dishing out yellow cards and frequently reprimanding players who paid him little attention, English referee Howard Webb seemed afraid to hand out a red card given the high stakes of the championship match. Almost 110 minutes had gone before he finally bowed to the inevitable and showed a second yellow to Heitinga for impeding Iniesta latching onto a ball in the box.
The two best Dutch chances both came in the second half and fell to their best player in South Africa, but the usually supremely confident Arjen Robben fluffed his lines. First Wesley Sneijder played a defense-splitting pass that had Robben one-on-one with Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas, but he misplaced his shot, clipping the Casillas's leg.
Later, he was again charging through having beaten Spanish defender Puyol. The Barcelona captain momentarily tried to rugby tackle Robben, who amazingly ignored the habit of a lifetime and stayed on his feet when a penalty would certainly followed had he gone down, as is his wont. Casillas snuffed out the danger and Robben was booked for protesting the lack of a penalty.
At the other end, Stekelenburg made a wonder save on a shot from Spanish striker David Villa, who passed up his chance to top the Cup’s goal scoring table. But David, like so many other big names in the match, failed to show on the big day.
Sneijder - who had been many people's pick for the Golden Boot, or most valuable player of the tournament - struggled to get on the ball. Stirker Robin van Persie was anonymous again. Even the Spanish midfield magician, Xavi, was unable to impose his silky style and passing patterns on the Dutch.
It never reached the heights of entertainment, nevermind beauty. Once again FIFA’s showcase game can be struck down as a dud.
Spain will not mind. They are world champions and have lifted a huge monkey off their back.