After a great game between the Netherlands and Spain that saw both sides create many scoring opportunities, it all came down to one strike. Andrés Iniesta's extra-time stunner in the 116th minute gave La Furia Roja their first ever World Cup championship as they beat the Dutch 1-0 in Sunday's final at Soccer City in Johannesburg.
With four minutes left in the second period of the extra frame, it was the midfielder’s golden right foot that first controlled a pass from teammate Cesc Fàbregas, and then blasted the ball to the far post for the game’s defining goal. However, none of that would have been possible had goalkeeper Iker Casillas not come up huge with two crucial saves against Dutch winger Arjen Robben.
The entire World Cup final was played intensely. Forty-seven fouls total (28 for Netherlands, 19 for Spain) and 14 yellow cards (one for Iniesta for taking off his jersey during his celebration) were proof that neither team wanted to let the other dictate the game and that each side was determined to fight for it all.
Both teams tried for an early surprise, looking to take advantage of the early jitters to decide the game from the onset. Spain, appearing in their first World Cup final ever, had the clearest chance of any side in the opening 45.
In just the 5th minute of play, Netherlands 'keeper Maarten Stekelenburg was forced to make a crucial save on a Sergio Ramos header. Spanish midfielder Xavi curled in a free kick from the right side, which Ramos sent towards Stekelenburg’s right. The keeper dove to make the save before the Dutch ultimately cleared the ball from the danger zone.
Just two minutes later, the Oranje answered back by way of Dirk Kuyt. After Spain’s Sergio Busquets mistakenly let a pass go by him, Kuyt came up with the ball and launched a shot straight to Casillas’ hands.
Ramos again missed another clear chance to score in the 11th minute, when Iniesta’s pass sent the right back into the box. The defender's shot to the far post, however, was cleared by a Dutch counterpart.
The teams continued to scratch and claw for possession, and though Spain controlled most of the first half, the Netherlands began to come towards the last 15 minutes of the initial period, a fact punctuated by a Robben shot one minute into stoppage time that forced Casillas into a diving save.
The midfield battle continued in the second half, as did the Netherlands' offensive impetus. In the 62nd minute, midfielder Wesley Sneijder sent a great pass over the Spanish defense and onto Robben, who went one-on-one against Casillas. Robben tried to slot his shot past the Spanish keeper’s right side, but Casillas, who had already dived left, somehow managed to put a foot on the ball to send it out.
Spain then came back with two clear chances of their own. First, in the 69th minute, David Villa ended up with the ball at his feet after Jesús Navas low cross found its way past defender Johnny Heitinga. Villa’s shot from just outside the six-yard box, however, was blocked between Stekelenburg and a Dutch defender.
Eight minutes later, Ramos, for the third time, wasted a good opportunity when he headed Xavi’s corner ball over the cross bar.
When it seemed as though the Iberians were regaining some of their early dominance, the Oranje came back with a great counter. Again, Robben received a ball behind the Spanish defenders and the Dutch winger proceeded to outmuscle and outsprint Carles Puyol. The Barcelona captain came up big once more as he rushed to the top of the box and snatched the ball away to stifle Robben's opportunity.
In the first half of extra time, the game became a wide open affair. Spain were the ones that almost took advantage of it, but a combination of inaccuracy and a great save by Stekelenburg on Fàbregas in the 95th minute kept the game deadlocked.
The Netherlands’ yellow-card trouble came back to haunt them 10 minutes from the end, as Heitinga got his second yellow of the match and was ejected from the game, which undoubtedly cost them when, in the 116th minute, Iniesta scored the winning goal.
Fernando Torres, who had a terrible World Cup, started the game-winning play on the left flank. His crossed ball was deflected by the defense onto Fàbregas, who then passed on to an open Iniesta at the right of the box. The Barcelona midfielder looked up and shot past Stekelenburg and inside the far post to give his country its first World Cup title and hand the Netherlands their third second-place finish.
ESP – Iniesta, 116’
Netherlands – Stekelenburg; van Bronckhorst (Braafheid, 105’), Mathijsen, Heitinga, van der Wiel; De Jong (van der Vaart, 99’), van Bommel; Kuyt (Elia, 71’), Sneijder, Robben; van Persie.
Spain – Casillas; Capdevila, Puyol, Pique, Ramos; Busquets, Xabi Alonso (Fàbregas, 87’); Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro (Navas, 60’); Villa (Torres, 106’)