JOHANNESBURG — A lone goal in extra time from midfielder Andrés Iniesta helped Spain defeat the Netherlands and make history Sunday night in the final match of the FIFA World Cup at Soccer City stadium.
President Jacob Zuma, along with Queen Sofia of Spain and Crown Prince Willem Alexander of the Netherlands, attended the match, which was preceded by an elaborate closing ceremony where former president Nelson Mandela made a brief appearance to a thunderous ovation. Highlights included a performance by Shakira, dancers forming a human vuvuzela, and a “thank you” message projected onto the field in languages of all 32 competing teams.
On the field, the two finalists were evenly matched, each unable to penetrate the others’ defense for a full 90 minutes before going to extra time, for only the sixth time in World Cup finals history.
The match also provided a flurry of yellow cards, with English referee Howard Webb giving out 14 bookings to five Spanish players and eight Dutch players before the final whistle. Two of these yellow cards were awarded to Dutch defender John Heitinga, forcing the Netherlands to play the last 23 minutes with 10 men. Spain’s victory marks the first time the country has won the World Cup, and the first time a European team has won outside Europe.
Both teams were on the attack early, trading shots on goal in the first 10 minutes of play. In the 11th minute Spanish striker David Villa appeared to have lined up a nice crossing pass, but powered the ball into the side netting. Although many such opportunities would present themselves, stellar defense on both sides prevented goals.
Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas made several spectacular saves, including a 33rd-minute leaping catch as he collided with defender Carles Puyol. Dutch forward Arjen Robben threatened to break the 0-0 tie as the first half wound down, but Casillas deflected his shot out of bounds.
In the second half frustration continued to mount for the offenses in a series of close calls. A Spanish corner kick in the 48th minute bounced off Puyol’s head and rolled right past the waiting foot of Spain’s Joan Capdevila. Hoping to give the offense a shot in the arm Spain substituted speedy striker Jesus Navas, but the Netherlands would get the next attempt on goal.
In the 62nd minute Robben made a perfectly timed run through the Spanish defense to catch up to a long pass, forcing Casillas to charge off the line and make a desperate save with his left foot. Seven minutes later Villa had a chance to retaliate in the penalty area but a last-ditch effort by the Dutch defense prevented a goal.
With time running out, both teams attacked with an increased sense of urgency. Robben made another run in the 83rd minute, once again reaching the penalty area before being brought down by a hard challenge. He contested the no-call, but only received one of the night’s many yellow cards for his efforts. An 86th-minute substitution of midfielder Cesc Fabregas was not enough to secure a Spanish goal before time expired, sending the match into extra time.
Spain dominated the first 15 minutes of extra time, with Iniesta, Fábregas, and Navas all taking shots on the Dutch goal. Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque replaced star forward David Villa with Fernando Torres, who would later help set up Iniesta’s winning goal.
In the 17th minute of extra time Heitinga earned his second yellow card and ejection from the game.
The Netherlands’ fate was sealed less than 10 minutes later as Iniesta zipped his shot past goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg’s outstretched fingertips. The Netherlands tried desperately to equalize but came up short, earning its third second-place finish in three finals appearances.