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Iniesta's 116th minute winner crowns Spain World Champions

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European Champions Spain took on a new title, the 'Champions of the World' by fulfilling their pre-tournament favourites billing by winning the 2010 FIFA World Cup in front of 84,490 fans at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday. The final turned out to be anything but a classic with the referee being forced to dish out as many as 14 yellow cards including 9 to the Netherlands, who came tonight with the intention of breaking up play and attempting to score on the counter. Arjen Robben had a couple of great chances to do just that in a match that was otherwise dominated by Spain, who grew stronger as the match progressed. Normal time failed to produce a winner, and it wasn't until after the Dutch were reduced to 10-men by the sending off of John Heitinga in the second period of extra time that Spain finally found a way to goal. Andres Iniesta proved to be the hero on the night, latching on to Cesc Fabregas' excellent through ball to smash home the winner in the 116th minute.

It was a cruel end to the tournament for the Netherlands, who were denied at the final hurdle for the third time in their history, also never having won a World Cup match that went beyond 90 minutes. For Spain though it was fair vindication for their endeavour right through the tournament as they bounced back from an opening game loss to win six straight games, including all their knock-out round matches by the all too familiar scoreline of 1-0.

The final line-ups bore no real surprises. The Dutch reverted to their strongest eleven, welcoming back Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel De Jong from suspension with Khalid Boulahrouz and Demy De Zeeuw making way. The Netherlands lined up in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation with the under pressure Robin van Persie continuing to lead the line despite only scoring 1 goal in the tournament so far. Inter Milan playmaker Wesley Sneijder was the focal point of midfield with Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt providing the width.

Spain meanwhile announced an unchanged side from their semi-final against Germany with Barcelona youth team product Pedro keeping the misfiring man with the £100 million price tag on his head, Fernando Torres, out of the side. That meant that David Villa, who had scored 5 of Spain's 7 goals in the World Cup thus far would start down the middle rather than his preferred option of cutting in from the left wing. Pedro started on the right with Iniesta given a license to float around the pitch.

While no one was really expecting an open contest in a game of this magnitude, the first half turned out to be a rather dirty-niggly affair with both teams trying desperately to stamp their authority on proceedings. As expected, Spain had the lion's share of possession, but the Dutch unlike their German counterparts, who allowed Spain to boss the midfield, decided to take a significantly more physical approach. Five yellow cards were dished out inside the opening 30 minutes, with Nigel de Jong perhaps lucky not to have seen red for an exceptionally high boot straight into the chest of Xabi Alonso.

The best chance of the opening half fell to Sergio Ramos as early as the 5th minute, with the right back powering a header goalwards from a Xavi free-kick only for Maarten Stekelenburg to produce what was easily his best save of the tournament. Dirk Kuyt had a rare shot for the Netherlands shortly after, but his effort from distance lacked both pace and direction and was easily gobbled up by the Spanish skipper Iker Casillas. David Villa, caught offside repeatedly in the first half, had his only shot in anger in the 12th minute when he found himself all alone at the back post from a corner, but sliced his left-footed effort into the side netting.

Twenty fouls were committed by the two sides combined, in the first half, and completely ruined what was supposed to have been football's showcase. With neither team able to string passes together for any length of time, the flair players on either side of the pitch were largely ineffectual and between them Xavi, Iniesta and Sneijer produced absolutely nothing of note. Mark van Bommel was particularly walking a thin line having been booked early for a challenge on Iniesta, and committing two offences since.

The Dutch produced their only threatening moment of the half (except for a pass back to Casillas which skipped off the turf over his head and just wide of goal) in injury time, with Arjen Robben forcing a good low save from the keeper with a snap shot from the edge of the area. The ensuing corner came to naught as the two sides went into the interval with nothing to show for their first 45 minutes out on the pitch.

The second half started promisingly with Robben making a useful run early on but failing to find Van Persie with his attempted through ball. Right back up the other end Spain should have scored from a corner, but Puyol's knockdown to Joan Capdevilla saw the defender miss from point blank range.

English referee Howard Webb was having a tough time officiating the final showing two more yellow cards to Dutch players for innocuous challenges, but letting the Spaniards get away with similar offences much to the chagrin of the Netherlands dugout.

Spain made their first change on the hour mark bringing on Jesus Navas, the 24-year old right winger from Sevilla for Pedro. However, the Dutch had their best spell of the game immediately after, with first Robin van Persie missing a tough header and then Arjen Robben blew a golden chance to open the scoring. The Bayern Munich winger was played through on goal right down the heart of the Spanish  defence, and with only the keeper to beat, Robben was a tad unlucky to have been denied by the trailing leg of Casillas after selling him the dummy the other way.

David Villa had almost as good a chance as Robben in the 70th minute when a cross from Navas was missed by John Heitinga, but his goal bound effort hit the defender on the floor and deflected over the goal. Spain had an even better chance in the 77th minute as a completely unmarked Sergio Ramos stormed into the box to head a corner, but inexplicably powered it over the bar.

The Dutch were increasingly coming under the cosh in the last 10 minutes, giving away a significant number of free-kicks, largely to Andres Iniesta, who was denied a goal scoring opportunity by Wesley Sneijder of all people back defending. Arjen Robben then had another great chance to give the Dutch a golden goal, played through by a header from Robin van Persie. Carles Puyol appeared to have tugged the rampaging Robben back, but the winger chose to remain on his feet and failed to round the keeper. Robben's protestations at not being awarded a free-kick for the foul by Puyol meant that he was the 6th Dutchman to enter Mr. Webb's notebook and the 9th player overall. The 90 minutes finished goal-less

The first period of extra time was incredibly exciting as tiring players and some substitutions meant that space opened up in midfield for Spain to exploit. Cesc Fabregas, who came on as a late substitute for Xabi Alonso hared into a one-on-one goal scoring position only to be denied by the excellent Stekelenburg in what was turning out to be a night for the keepers. Iniesta had a similar opportunity moments later but dallied on the ball and Giovanni van Bronckhorst did brilliantly to clear the danger. The veteran skipper denied Jesus Navas too later, while Fabregas again went on a mazy run only to skew his final shot off target.

With penalties looming large, the two teams entered the second period of extra time knowing that a piece of late magic could win the game for either side. The task for the Dutch got all the more difficult when one of their yellow cards finally turned into a red with center-back John Heitinga sent off for a ghost challenge on Iniesta, who clearly made the most of it. The Dutch had 10 minutes to defend with 10 men, but the goal that the night had been screaming for finally came in the 116th minute when Iniesta was played onside by a reshaped Dutch defence and found by Cesc Fabregas. The Barcelona genius took his time and powered the ball past Stekelenburg to deliver a death blow to Dutch hopes, one from which they never recovered.

The game ended soon after 1-0 to the Spaniards, and they were crowned well deserved World Champions for the very first time! The Dutch came to spoil tonight, but their decision not to play their own game backfired at the very end, and their wait for a first World Cup title goes on for atleast another 4 years. On the balance of play you would have to say Spain were easily the best team in the tournament, and though they will be criticized for scoring such few goals, no one can accuse them of not playing attractive football. In the end though perhaps all that matters is that they walked away with the title of the best side in World football.

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A final thought also for South Africa, who did a fantastic job of hosting the World Cup, setting exceptionally high standards for Brazil to live upto come 2014.

Teams:

Netherlands (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg (GK), Mathijsen, Heitinga (red card 110'), Van Bronckhorst (Braafheid 105'), De Jong (Van der Vaart 99'), Van der Wiel, Van Bommel, Van Persie, Sneijder, Kuyt (Elia 70'), Robben.

Spain (4-3-3): Casillas (GK), Puyol, Pique, Capdevila, Ramos, Busquets, Alonso (Fabregas 87'), Xavi, Pedro (Navas 60'), Villa (Torres 105), Iniesta.

Predicted Scoreline: Netherlands 0-1 Spain (Iniesta 116')

Also Read: Uruguay 2-3 Germany Match Report

Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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