Johannesburg – Spain clinched their first World Cup on Sunday in a disappointing, foul-ravaged final thanks to an Andres Iniesta extra-time winner over Holland at Soccer City.
Just as it seemed a third final was destined to be settled by a penalty shoot-out, the Barcelona midfielder found himself in space in the Dutch box and hammered an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
It was a cruel blow for a Dutch side that had hoped to eradicate memories of the country’s defeats in the 1974 and 1978 finals.
But the ultimate outcome of a contest both sides might easily have won inside 90 minutes will trigger few complaints from neutrals.
Over the two hours, the European champions enjoyed the better of the chances while the Dutch had defender John Heitinga sent off and seven other players booked, most of them for challenges that appeared cynically designed to disturb the rhythm of Spain’s passing game.
"It’s incredible," said Iniesta. "What a joy especially when you see how we won it.
"There aren’t the words to describe what I am feeling. After my goal, I thought about my family and all the people who I love. But the victory is the fruit of a lot of work."
Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque praised a team who have now added the world title to the European crown.
"The joy of 50 days with this squad and to win the World Cup is fantastic," he said.
"It was a hard game. We started well and then they had chances in the second half. But after that I believed we were slightly superior."
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk added: "The best team won. I am disappointed. It is a world championship and we have just lost a final."
But Holland’s Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt blamed English referee Howard Webb, although five Spanish players were also yellow carded.
"We are angry because we were so close. The referee was slightly more for them than for us. That ultimately cost us the cup."
By winning, Spain overturned an 80-year tradition.
Until Sunday, no country which lost its opening match in the tournament had gone on to lift the trophy with 16 of the 18 previous champions making a winning debut and England in 1966 and Italy 16 years later involved in goalless draws.
Reigning European champions Spain suffered a shock 1-0 defeat by modest Switzerland in their first group game before bouncing back with victories against Honduras and Chile.
The ‘Red Fury’ then specialised in 1-0 knockout triumphs, defeating Iberian neighbours Portugal, stubborn Paraguay and possession-starved Germany by that score.
Best players of World Cup 2010
Meanwhile, Uruguay striker Diego Forlan was awarded the Golden Ball as the best player of the World Cup while Germany’s Thomas Mueller took the plaudits for best young player.
Mueller also won the Golden Boot for being the tournament’s top scorer.
The 20-year-old Bayern Munich forward finished the tournament with five goals, the same number as Uruguay’s Diego Forlan, Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands and Spain’s David Villa.
He was awarded the Golden Boot because he had supplied three assists, which was more than any of his rivals.
Fiesta in Spain, agony in Netherlands
Spanish fans danced the night away in a joyous fiesta after their first ever World Cup triumph Sunday, as silence fell across the Netherlands as the country again tasted the bitterness of defeat.
A thunderous roar erupted from a sea of the people dressed in red and gold in Madrid as Spain — perennial World Cup underachievers — lifted the trophy.
With temperatures hitting 37 C (99 F), more than 150,000 supporters watched the match on massive screens in a giant "fan park" in a one-kilometre (half-mile) stretch of Madrid’s main thoroughfare.
At the final whistle, the crowd chanted "Spanish, Spanish, We are Spanish" and "Viva Espana", at the start of a fiesta that was set to last throughout the night.
Said Adolfo, 25, "It’s an extraordinary feeling, of happiness and nerves."
Others crammed into bars or stayed home for the match, which left the country paralysed Sunday evening. Many were wrapped in the Spanish flag, wore the red team shirts or red wigs, or had their faces painted red and gold.
But in Amsterdam, where nearly 200,000 football fans dressed in orange had gathered to watch the match on big TV screens, there was a deadly hush as the final whistle blew.
Some of the estimated 180,000 supporters gathered in Amsterdam’s Museumplein square rested their heads in their hands as the earlier festive atmosphere turned sombre and a cacophony of vuvuzelas suddenly died down.
Dutch’midfielder Wesley Sneijder reacts at the end of the 2010 World Cup football final.
Some cried, others sank down to the ground; many started leaving the square in grim silence.
The normally tranquil Museumplein was earlier transformed into a sea of orange with people in T-shirts, wigs, hats, flags and banners in the colour of the national team, nicknamed the Oranje Elftal (Orange Eleven).
Some had painted their faces, others wore lion suits or tails after the national symbol. There were orange rabbit’s ears, orange clogs, orange hair, inflatable orange crowns and orange viking helmets.
Amsterdam officials had earlier urged people to stop coming to the Dutch capital as the city centre and Museumplein, with a maximum capacity of 100,000 visitors, filled up three hours before the match even started.
AFP / Expatica