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Andres Iniesta blasted home the World Cup-winning goal in the 116th minute, (26 minutes into extra time) giving Spain the championship of the 2010 World Cup, defeating the Dutch, the Netherlands and Holland with one lethal drive, and proving for once and for all that Spain is the greatest country on earth (for at least the next four years).
The last time Spain and Holland faced off, it took 80 years to determine a winner. This time, it only took 120 minutes of hard-fought, intense soccer, replete with loads of yellow cards and “professional fouls.”
While many pundits have criticized the match for its roughness (14 yellow cards and one red dished out) and lack of scoring, only great play by both goalkeepers prevented it from becoming a wild 2-1 or 3-2 match.
Neither team could score in 90 minutes of regulation, mostly due to some spectacular saves from the keepers. Spain’s captain Iker Casillas made at least two game-saving stops, including denying Arjen Robben’s breakaway blast (blocking it with approximately 1/8th of one percent of the outside of his foot) late in regulation time. Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg robbed Spain’s David Villa, and got his gloved hand on Iniesta’s rocketed winner– perhaps an inch more, and he would have saved that one too.
Both teams were inches away from scoring multiple times in regulation. Soccer is a game of inches, as are all great sports. (Good thing, because if it were games of miles, it would be ridiculous and boring and hard to stage a soccer game in a normal stadium.)
Both teams lunged, kicked, pulled, flopped and put-the-boot-in for 90 minutes of ruthless, hardcore, cynical yet intense action, with Holland seeming to place the more savage kicks into strategic locations. It was more IFC than ballet, as well it should be, with most of the earth and possibly parts of outer space tuned in– estimates ranged as high as eleventy bazillion people around the world watching the match.
With stakes so high, the rough edges of the game will come out. If you want players to give their all to win, you need to accept that they will play up to the limit of the rules, and sometimes cross the line, as when Holland’s Nigel de Jong karate-kicked Spain’s Xabi Alonso in the chest in the first half. Referee Howard Webb generously gave de Jong a yellow card, rather than the red card it probably deserved, in the interests of letting both teams continue to play with 11 men. As Spain coach (and Gene Hackman lookalike) Vicente del Bosque said after the match, “it was very intense, balanced and even. It was rough at times, but that’s part of football.”
The rough play might have been surprising to some, since the Dutch players all have names like famous painters– “Yes, my new Giovanni Van Bronckhorst goes nicely with the Van Bommel I have hanging in the study. You can really see the influence of Van de Vaart and De Jong”– while the Spanish players have names like Euro pop stars– “who do you girls think is cuter, Sergio or Sergio? Fernando or Fernando? Xabi, Xavi or Javi?”
As 2008 European Champions, loaded with expensive and famous club players, Spain were the favorites, despite their relative lack of scoring in this tournament. They finish as the lowest-scoring champions in World Cup history, with 8 goals scored in 7 games (the previous low for a champion being 11 goals scored.)
Yet despite being accused by some of seeming more like a boy band than a ruthless band of brothers– with expensive haircuts, big egos and an abundance of talent that left many famous stars sitting on the bench for most of the tournament– Spain in the end showed the toughness, fortitude and opportunism necessary to finish off the feisty Dutch. In a battle of toughness and physical play, Spain showed that they were the best team in the tournament, finding ways to win even when opponents did whatever they could to deny their high-possession, highly skilled style of play. Everyone knew they could win a finesse game, and Spain also proved that they could also defeat all comers in a rough-and-tumble slugfest, while being pushed to the limit, and with stakes at the very highest.
Now that it’s all over, and the all hype and controversy starts to fade, this World Cup will always be remembered for Spain winning their first world title, and of course for the angry-hornet-like buzz of the vuvuzela. BZZZZZZZZZ!!!