Monday, July 12, 2010

Spain wins World Cup


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa | 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 Sunday night, 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 after a 1-0 extra-time victory.
“We have all done an incredible job,” Iniesta said. “I don’t think we even realize what we have done.”
This final was a physical test of attrition that sometimes turned dirty — a finals-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 right-footed shot from 8 yards just past the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg with about 7 minutes left to play, including injury time.
“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, unlike 1974 and 1978, the Netherlands was unbeaten not only in this tournament but also in qualifying for the first World Cup staged in South Africa.
Soccer City was soaked in Oranje, from the seats painted in that hue throughout the stadium to pretty much everyone seated in them, including crown prince Willem-Alexander. It was different when they lost to hosts West Germany and Argentina in previous finals; this time, the Dutch were something of a home team. And the visitors won.
Spain had pockets of supporters, too, with fans dressed in red and scattered throughout the stadium. Among those cheering were Queen Sofia, Rafael Nadal and Pau Gasol.
Spain’s fans might have been in the minority, but when the final whistle blew, they were tooting their vuvuzelas with a vengeance in tribute to their champions.
A second straight World Cup final headed into extra time, and the goalkeepers were unbeatable. Stekelenburg, relatively inexperienced on the international level, made a spectacular left leg save when Fabregas broke free early in overtime.
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. Stekelenburg barely brushed it with his fingertips as it soared into the net.
And with that, Iniesta tore off his jersey and raced to the corner where he was mobbed by his teammates.
Several Dutch players wiped away tears as they received their runners-up medals — yet again. They had won every qualifying match and all six previous games in South Africa before the bitter ending.
The Netherlands now has more victories in World Cup games without a title than any nation: 19. Spain held that dubious record with 24.
Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk took off his silver medal as soon as he left the podium, a look of disgust on his face.
The winners struggled but managed to lift their coach, Vicente del Bosque, in the air in celebration.
“They made it very difficult for us to play comfortably,” Del Bosque said. “It was a very intense match.”

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