Iniesta’s goal delivers World Cup, sends Spain into a frenzy
JOHANNESBURG — Exhaustion etched on their faces, fatigued bodies ready to betray them, the players knew just one goal would be enough to win the elusive World Cup for their nation.
As the clock ticked toward penalty kicks, the shivering crowd at Soccer City Stadium grew anxious.
Spain or the Netherlands would win its first championship, if only someone could find the net.
Andres Iniesta did, and Spain rules the soccer world at long, long last.
“We have all done an incredible job,” he said Sunday, shortly after the 1-0 extra-time victory. “I don’t think we even realize what we have done.”
They beat the Netherlands to go one better than the European title España won in 2008.
La Furia Roja won their last four games by a score of 1-0 — a tight margin that characterized the monthlong tournament. The World Cup featured a record 31 one-goal decisions out of 64 matches
(West Germany) or 1978 (Argentina).
The goal in the 116th minute came off a turnover by the Dutch defense that Fabregas controlled just outside the penalty area. Iniesta stayed on the right and sneaked in to grab the pass and put his shot to the far post. And with that, Iniesta tore off his jersey and raced to the corner where he was mobbed by his teammates.
Holland now has more victories in Cup games without a title than any nation: 19. Spain held that dubious record with 24.
“This one is hard to accept,’’ said Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, playing his last game. “We held them down for so long, but we couldn’t get one ourselves. Some close chances.’’
The Netherlands played a tough, physical style that forced Spain out of its traditonal free-flowing game.
“They made it very difficult for us to play comfortably,” Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque said. “It was a very intense match.”
Yet the most dangerous player was Dutch forward Arjen Robben. He had a rare breakaway in the 62nd minute after a brilliant through pass from Wesley Sneijder. He had the ball on his preferred left foot, but a charging Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas barely got his right leg on the shot to deflect it wide of the gaping net.
Then it was Stekelenburg’s turn, holding his ground after a misplay in front of the net gave the ever-potent David Villa an open shot.
Robben again looked as though he might get it with a burst of speed past the defense, but Casillas, the team captain who was voted the Cup’s top keeper, sprinted from his net and smothered the ball before Robben could take a shot.
“You felt that the team that would score first would win,” Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk said. “We had two great chances through Arjen. We made a real game out of it.” — four more than the previous high set in 2002, according to STATS LLC.
This final was a physical test of attrition that sometimes turned dirty — a record 14 yellow cards were handed out and the Dutch finished with 10 men. In the end, it was Iniesta breaking free in the penalty area, taking a pass from Cesc Fabregas and putting a rightfooted shot from 8 yards just past the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg with about seven minutes left to play.
“When I struck it, it just had to go in,” Iniesta said.
For the Dutch and their legions of orange-clad fans wearing everything from jerseys to jumpsuits to clown gear to pajamas, it was yet another disappointment.
Even with their first World Cup title tantalizingly within reach, they failed in the final for the third time. This one might have been the most bitter because the Netherlands was unbeaten not only in this tournament, but in qualifying for the first World Cup staged in South Africa. And the Oranje weren’t playing a team on enemy turf, as in 1974
At top: Spain’s Andres Iniesta, right, scores a goal past Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg during the 116th minute of the World Cup final at Soccer City in Johannesburg. The game was scoreless deep into extra time and Iniesta’s goal was the only one of the match. Above: Spanish fans celebrate Iniesta’s goal as they watch a live broadcast in Madrid of the final against the Netherlands, Spain’s first World Cup victory.
Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas holds up the World Cup trophy after defeating the Netherlands on Sunday. Spain won 1-0 thanks in part to Casillas’ stringent goalkeeping.
Card-filled: Referee Howard Webb shows the red card to Netherlands’ John Heitinga (3) during a game with 14 yellow cards.
Local flavor: Dutch fans and siblings Ryan, Vanessa and Ashley Colpaart nervously watch the action at Fado Irish Pub in Austin.