Spain reigns!

JOHANNESBURG, (Reuters) – Spain stunned the  Netherlands to win their first World Cup yesterday in  sensational fashion with a goal in the last minutes of extra  time.

With the scoreless match inching towards a penalty  shootout, and the Dutch down to 10 men, Andres Iniesta picked  up a pass from Cesc Fabregas to fire home from close range four  minutes from the final whistle in Africa’s first World Cup.

The goal sparked euphoric scenes as the Spanish team and  bench raced after Iniesta into the corner of the Soccer City  stadium to celebrate while the Dutch appeared stunned.

It was the first time the European champions had reached a  World Cup final and a bitter disappointment for the Netherlands  who finished runners-up for the third time after previously  losing the 1974 and 1978 finals.

It was also the first victory by a European side outside  their continent.

But the game was far from the classic final hoped for from  the two most impressive teams in the tournament and was for  large stretches a sterile stalemate.

Spain looked dominant for long passages but a ferociously  physical Netherlands team often broke up their rhythm and their  renowned precision passing in midfield.
In a bruising encounter in the huge Soccer City stadium,  referee Howard Webb showed 13 yellow cards and sent off Dutch  defender John Heitinga in extra time.

Despite the disappointing quality of the match, the final  was a triumphant end to a highly successful tournament for  South Africa who confounded years of pessimistic predictions  that it would be ruined by violent crime and chaos.

To cap their pride, Nelson Mandela, much loved father of  post-apartheid South Africa, briefly toured the pitch waving to  the crowd just before the match began.

Mandela, 91, who is in frail health, was driven around in a  golf cart surrounded by bodyguards and greeted by an ecstatic  crowd chanting his clan name Madiba and blowing vuvuzela  trumpets.

The former president, who led South Africa out of apartheid  in 1994, had been unable to attend the opening ceremony because  of the death of his great grand-daughter in a car accident the  night before.

Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque told television: “It was a  very difficult match. we have fantastic players. We could have  scored another goal or two. But I think the result was  deserved. It’s a very happy day for me.”

Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said the better team had won  in the end: “It is very sad. These three or four final minutes  and then you lose. I really had thought even with 10 we would  be able to do the penalty shoot out.

“It is bitter but that is sport. It is harsh.”

Both sides missed good goalscoring opportunities, most  notably Dutch winger Arjen Robben who was twice denied by  brilliant saves from Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

The final in the flagship stadium where nearly 85,000  spectators watched ended with a firework and light display and  was preceded by a glitzy opening ceremony fronted by Colombian  Shakira performing the official World Cup song “Waka Waka” with  local group Freshly Ground.


FIFA said a worldwide television audience of more than 700  million had been expected to watch.

The Spanish victory will hugely raise spirits in Spain  which is torn by bitter political infighting over how to  address Europe’s highest unemployment and crippling debt.

But it will be a huge downer for the Netherlands which went  through polarising elections in June that failed to produce a  clear winner and had believed this would be their best chance  to win soccer’s greatest trophy after an unbeaten run through  the World Cup, including qualifying matches.

Despite being the first host nation eliminated at the group  stage, locals have remained enthusiastic spectators, helping  this World Cup to be the third best attended ever, with 3  million seats sold, behind the United States in 1994 and  Germany in 2006.

Chief local organiser Danny Jordaan said the tournament had  brought the races together and enabled South Africans to walk  tall after being told for years they were inferior.

Before the match a man wearing an anti-racism T-shirt ran  on to the pitch and almost grabbed the trophy before being  tackled and taken away by security men.

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