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Viva España

July 11, 2010

Iker Casillas lifts the trophy before Sepp Blatter can get out of the picture -

So, in the end, the best team won.

Andres Iniesta’s smart finish three minutes from the end of extra time saw Spain to their first World Cup triumph; for Netherlands, the World Cup winless run was extended to three finals.

The game was marred by some awful lunges from by the Dutch but was evenly-matched overall. Spain eventually benefited from the game becoming more open, but Arjen Robben, petulant and brilliant in almost equal measure, wasted two second-half chances which may have avoided extra time – and Dutch disappointment. His admirable quest for glory led him to stay on his feet under pressure from Carles Puyol for the second, but the best chance was well saved by Iker Casillas who had dived the wrong way.

It was, though, Spain’s day, and with four 1-0 victories in the knockout stages they have confirmed their status as the best team in the world. Their Barcelona-inspired passing was not as swift in the early stages of the final as it was through much of the tournament – the peak came in the semi-final against Germany – but their commitment to a beautiful brand of football has been rewarded.

Ouch. But De Jong will probably be hurting more than Alonso in the morning -

The BBC’s coverage suggested that, for the Netherlands, it was an inglorious defeat to end a proud run of victories. Their insistence on brutality was a shame, and unnecessary since they matched Spain throughout when they were not kicking them. Nobody can play football like Spain but the Netherlands did more than most to stop them creating chances.

Recent talk has been of a World Cup of teamwork – Spain, Netherlands and Germany showing the value of the collective over the individual. And the fact that six of the Spanish eleven have played together daily for months or years with Barcelona surely gives them a clear advantage. Pique and Puyol at the back; Xavi, Iniesta and Pedro going forward; Busquets bridging the gap. They are to be joined by David Villa, whose goals fired Spain into the later stages – and, perhaps, Cesc Fabregas, who slots into the national side with ease when called upon and who shines like a beacon in a sea of good – but not great – players at Arsenal.

It was his work on the edge of the box that freed Iniesta to fire past home. The Netherlands players’ complaints following the goal were laughable for the detached observer, considering they were fortunate to be down to ten men – however debatable the calls of the second yellow for Heitinga and the foul on Elia. Mark van Bommel emerges from the final with little credit following an excellent competition; Nigel de Jong similarly so, even if his bizarre studs-into-chest ‘challenge’ on Xabi Alonso was not deliberate.

In any case, the Madrid midfielder’s bruises will heal soon enough. He has been performed superbly as part of the best team in the competition. Even if the hyperbole can sometimes become tiresome, it is clear that Spain have been an excellent side to watch for two years. After a stuttering start in South Africa they have won six games in a row; they deserve their World Cup triumph.

Viva España.

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