Spain vs. Netherlands: Spain is World Cup winner after 1-0 victory over the Netherlands

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2010; D01

JOHANNESBURG -- After enduring 80 years to win the World Cup, Spain certainly wasn't going to let the Netherlands' bruising tactics, 30 minutes of overtime, a record number of yellow cards and several squandered scoring opportunities to get in the way of history.

The wait ended Sunday night when, in the 116th minute of an abrasive, unattractive match on the brink of heading to a penalty kick tiebreaker, midfielder Andres Iniesta scored against the short-handed Dutch for a 1-0 victory before 84,490 at Soccer City Stadium.

In their first appearance in the championship game after decades of maddening failure, the Spaniards tolerated Dutch aggression and several anxious moments to build upon their 2008 European title.

"We started a legacy in 2008," Coach Vicente Del Bosque said, "and we tried to preserve that legacy here."

Netherlands lost in the championship game for the third time, and in the process, stained its laudable reputation with a reprehensible performance. The Oranje received nine yellow cards -- three more than the combined record for a final, set in 1986 -- and when defender John Heitinga was assessed his second in the 109th minute, the Netherlands had to play a man short.

Dutch Coach Bert van Marwijk tried to defend his team's approach, which included Nigel de Jong's flying kick to Xabi Alonso's chest in the first half.

"It's not our style to commit horrible fouls," he said. "It's not our kind of football. Both sides committed terrible fouls."

When the match ended, amid fireworks and confetti, several Dutch players confronted English referee Howard Webb.

Spain was hardly innocent but nothing compared to the Oranje.

The match was "very tough, very rough," Iniesta said. "All sorts of things were happening on the pitch."

Iniesta, one of six Spain starters from club titan FC Barcelona, seemed to get better as the match unfolded and made the difference late in extra time.

Fernando Torres's service was blocked to the feet of teammate Cesc Fabregas, who served a diagonal ball for Iniesta. Dutch defender Rafael van der Vaart stepped forward in an effort to catch Iniesta offside but was too late. Iniesta touched the ball high and then stung a waist-level shot from seven yards off goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg's right hand and into the far corner.

"I simply made a small contribution," Iniesta said, minimizing the importance of a goal that will enter Spanish lore.

For much of the evening, Spain labored to establish the mesmerizing possession and ball movement that has marked its play for more than three years. The partnership of de Jong and Mark van Bommel disrupted Spanish masterminds Xavi and Iniesta, and the tone turned harsh and cynical.

Spain wasn't enjoying as much of the ball as it had grown accustomed to in recent matches, and when it did, the Dutch were intent on inflicting pain.

Webb tried to keep control, issuing five yellow cards (three to the Netherlands) in the first 28 minutes. However, he could have sent off both van Bommel, for a brutal tackle from behind on Iniesta, and de Jong, for his martial arts move on Alonso.

The Netherlands had set the tone, and Spain had to be careful not to lose composure. The Dutch have more to offer than brawn, and with every break in concentration, the Spaniards found themselves chasing the ever-dangerous Arjen Robben.

The constant disruptions extinguished any chance of Spain reviving the dour match. Just before halftime, Robben tested goalkeeper Iker Casillas with a near-post threat from 18 yards.

After the break, the pace quickened, the game creaked open ever slightly. But then Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Heitinga joined the yellow card parade three minutes apart.

The moment the Dutch had waited for came in the 62nd minute when Robben timed his run exquisitely and collected a through ball for a clean run. The charging Casillas committed to his left, and when Robben tried to place the ball behind him, the keeper used his trailing right foot to deflect it wide.

"We didn't hold back anymore," van Marwijk said, "and that is when it turned into a good match."

In the 69th minute, Spain's David Villa should have capitalized on Heitinga's clumsy clearance in the six-yard box but the Dutch defender recovered in time to block the angled bid. Eight minutes later, Sergio Ramos's seven-yard header was terribly off target.

Robben was given another opportunity, bursting past Carles Puyol to run onto a bouncing ball. Beaten on the play, Puyol held back Robben by placing his right arm across the Dutchman's stomach. Robben broke free and nimbly kept his balance but couldn't gather possession, allowing Casillas to extinguish the threat.

If Robben had fallen, Webb might have been persuaded to issue a red card.

Both teams stirred in overtime. Stekelenburg made an outstanding save with his left shin on Fabregas's left-footed bid, set up wonderfully by Iniesta, and Dutch defender Joris Mathijsen headed high from six yards on a corner kick.

Heitinga's evening ended when he tugged on Iniesta's shoulder to thwart a run into the box. With Dutch hopes resting almost solely on a possible penalty kick tiebreaker, Iniesta provided the breakthrough and Spain killed off the game to trigger celebrations on the field, in the crowd and all over a long-suffering country.

Said Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets: "We've been waiting a whole life for this."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company