It wasn’t their greatest performance, but neither the Spanish players nor their fans will have any concern over how they won their first World Cup. After all, you can’t be picky about accomplishing something only eight nations have ever done. Spain joined the elite club with a 1-0 extra time victory over Netherlands, who was also seeking their first World Cup.
Andres Iniesta is the hero in Barcelona and Madrid tonight after his 166th minute close range half-volley sent most of the Iberian Peninsula into a state of jubilation.
It was a game that can only be described as choppy and physical. The two teams easily set a new record for yellow cards in a World Cup final, and Dutch defender John Heitinga was sent off about 20 minutes into overtime with his second yellow card. The match was full of fouls, and the chances were few and far between. However, when they did come, at least for Netherlands, they were ripe for the taking. Arjen Robben, once in the first half and once in extra time, twice was one-on-one with Spanish keeper Iker Casillas and failed both times to put the ball in the net. Meanwhile, the Spanish had a couple of golden chances themselves, most notably Sergio Ramos’ wide-open header that sailed over the crossbar and David Villa’s point blank blast that was blocked near the goal line by a Dutch defender.
Although Spain showed flashes of the brilliant passing they’re capable of, these moments were fleeting and their touch appeared to fail them on many occasions in the final third. Pedro wasn’t able to have the same impact that he did in the semifinal, and, despite some half-chances and dangerous runs in the early part of the game, David Villa didn’t look his usual threatening self either. The insertion of Jesus Navas for Pedro inserted some energy onto the rights side for Spain, but after seeing Cesc Fabregas, who was substituted into the game in extra time, one has to wonder why the Arsenal midfielder didn’t see some time earlier in the game to catalyze something.
As for Netherlands, they appeared to play much the same way they have throughout this tournament. That is, rather unattractively but fairly effectively. The real story for the Dutch in this game, though, was their amazing propensity for picking up yellow cards. A full eight players for Netherlands finished with at least one yellow card (and Heitinga, of course, finished with two). Van Bommel was his normal physical, borderline clumsy, self, but to give the Dutch credit, their tough tactics seemed to be working as the game slowed down and the Spanish were denied many clear-cut chances. Sneijder still didn’t look up to his Inter Milan standards, and Van Bommel and De Jong were their normal uncreative selves. They seemed satisfied to continue to rely entirely on Arjen Robben to come up with something, and he very nearly did on two different occasions. Indeed, the balding winger comes up with an astounding number of chances for such a one-dimensional player.
In the end, though, the Spanish script for the tournament reigned, and they won yet another 1-0 game with a late (albeit later than usual) goal.
It’s a pretty established fact, but one we’re always eager to forget, that the actual action in most championship games is substandard. Whether it’s the tension, or the caution, or simply the fact that two evenly matched teams are facing off, championships, in any sport, are often won in pedestrian fashion. Like I said, though, this Spanish side won’t care one bit how that trophy was won. All that matters is who’s raising it after the match.