Spain rise above Dutch thuggery to win World Cup
Andres Iniesta‘s injury-time strike wins the trophy for Spain after most violent final ever
Spain 1 Holland 0 (after extra-time): The beautiful game turned into the ugly game last night as Holland and Spain clashed in the most brutal final in the history of the World Cup. English referee Howard Webb, the most industrious man on the pitch, dished out 14 yellow cards and one red card (the six cards handed out in the 1986 Final had been the previous record) in a carnival of carnage that must have left Nelson Mandela wondering why he bothered to turn up at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium.
As for the football, well, what football? There was precious little of it and Holland forfeited all right to ever again be linked with the notion of Total Football. The Orangemen were a disgrace, a collection of footballing thugs, with Mark van Bommel their pitiable ringleader, who set out to hack their opponents off the park. Only three of their starting eleven weren't booked and one, John Heitinga, was dismissed in extra-time for his second yellow. Had it not been for the fact that this was the World Cup final, the biggest match in the sport, Webb would probably have sent off van Bommel and Nigel de Jong for shocking fouls in the first half.
In the end it was Andres Iniesta who scored the crucial goal four minutes from the end of extra-time, a strike that at least spared the world the spectre of penalties and the dreadful prospect of the Dutch somehow stealing the cup from the deserving Spanish. But the muted reaction in Soccer City when Spain lifted the trophy summed up the anti-climax felt by all but the most patriotic of Spanish fans.
It's been a shocking tournament in terms of quality, arguably the worst ever in the 80 years of World Cup, and it got the final it deserved. Sepp Blatter, president of Fifa, may smile his oily smile and declare everything is rosy in the football garden but the game has big problems at international level and it's time the game's governing body did something about resurrecting the World Cup as a sporting spectacle. But back to the final and 120 minutes of mind-numbing mundanity.
Spain started brightly, too brightly for the Dutch, who were rattled by the pace of David Villa up front and Sergio Ramos out wide on the right. Holland's answer to the skills of the Spanish was to scythe them down, and Ramos was the first victim, brought down by Giovanni van Bronckhorst. From the resulting free-kick Xavi found the head of Ramos but his header was well saved by Maarten Stekelenburg in the Dutch goal.
From then on, the challenges got progressively more savage with the worst the high foot from Nigel de Jong that speared Alonso in the chest. Spain tried to weave the patterns in midfield that had served them so well two years ago, when they won the European Championships, but the increasingly violent Dutch tackles threw them off their stride. Even Robin Van Persie got in on the act, viciously felling Sergio Busquets and Joan Capdevila.
Spain began to respond with reckless challenge of their own and Ramos and Carles Puyol went into Webb's bulging book.
The second half contained fewer fouls than the first but in terms of quality it was on a par. Capdevila fluffed a chance for Spain early on and Arjen Robben brought out a sharp save from Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal. Then came glorious opportunities at each end: Wesley Sneijder threaded the ball through Spain's defence for Robben to run on to, but in a one-on-one with Casillas, the Spanish keeper parried the goal-bound shot with his legs. Not long after Ramos should have put Spain ahead when he rose unmarked at a Xavi corner, only to send his header over the bar from point-blank range.
Cesc Fabregas appeared for extra-time, and nearly broke the deadlock, but was denied by Stekelenburg as penalties loomed. But then Fabregas and Fernando Torres combined to free Iniesta on the right-hand side of the penalty area and his shot just beat Stekelenburg's despairing dive.
Four minutes later the final whistle went and an estimated 700m people watching round the world breathed a sigh of relief that justice had been served. Yet incredibly Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk later condemned Webb's display. "I don't think the ref controlled the match well," said van Marwijk, who conceded that some of the fouls committed were atrocious. "It's not our style. Let me put it this way, it's not our style to commit horrible fouls. It's not our kind of football. It was a World Cup final and people were tense. I think both sides, also the Spaniards, committed terrible fouls."
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque refused to be drawn into the Dutch tactics, saying only: "They made it very difficult for us to play comfortably. It's been a very intense match and congratulations to them." It was left to goalscorer Iniesta to give a more accurate description of the appalling Dutch antics: "It was a very tough game, a very rough game - there were all sorts of things happening on the pitch." ·
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