Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Steven Beacom: Spain's World Cup win a victory for brains over brawn

Spain fans enjoy the atmosphere during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa
Fernando Torres of Spain lifts the World Cup trophy as the Spain team celebrate victory following the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa
Supporters of the Spanish team attend a public viewing of the World Cup final football match between Spain and Netherlands at Plaza Colon on July 11, 2010 in Madrid, Spain

Uruguay, Italy, Germany/West Germany, Brazil, England, Argentina and France. Now add sensational Spain to the list.

We’ve known they have been the best team on the planet for a few years.

Finally, it’s official.

In what was a hugely controversial and bad-tempered World Cup final, a touch of genuine class decided it thanks to the dazzling feet of Andres Iniesta.

In the 116th minute, the Barcelona maestro controlled a pass from substitute Cesc Fabregas in an instant inside the area and volleyed the ball into the net with a stunning strike, giving Spain a 1-0 victory over Holland in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.

In that moment a nation rejoiced. And the World Cup was won. For the first time in Spain’s footballing history.

And for the first time by a European nation outside its own continent.

This wasn’t just a glorious victory for the Spanish. This was a result for the sport.

Anything else could have seen football go back to the dark ages with bully-boy tactics being applied all over the world.

Instead we can look to a future where coaches tell kids that by passing and moving and playing with brain not brawn can lead you to being the best around.

Holland’s tactics were appalling. Total Football? More like a total disgrace.

The Dutch’s game plan was to stop Spain playing. By fair means or foul. Most of it the latter.

Yes, there were a few poor challenges from the Spanish, but Holland’s tackling was way over the top — literally.

There was a real nasty edge to the Dutch — the worst of all coming in the first half when Nigel de Jong assaulted Xabi Alonso, stamping on his chest.

How he stayed on the pitch, I’ll never know. Ditto the fouling machine that is Mark van Bommel. English referee Howard Webb hoped for a quiet night. Holland made should he didn’t get one. He handed out more cards than he does at Christmas. Virtually every player in orange and a few Spaniards were booked, with Dutch defender John Heitinga ordered off in extra-time for picking up two yellows.

The stop-start nature of the contest was a major reason why there was no flow to the football in the first hour.

The other was the dreadful standard of play as Spain failed to find their famous rhythm. And that suited Holland down to the ground.

Coach Bert van Marwijk felt that making this final a pure football match would be suicide.

He believed by stifling the Spanish, his team would have it in them to produce one moment of quality to win the game. They did.

Just after the hour mark the previously anonymous Wesley Sneijder delivered a defence splitting pass that sent Arjen Robben through.

This was it for Holland. Only it wasn’t, with the outstretched leg of Iker Casillas denying the Bayern Munich winger the glory.

It was a brilliant save, but Robben should never have given him the chance to make it.

From that moment on, the game sparked into life — better late than never — with the Spanish players increasing their intensity and to their credit continuing to play their way, the right way, despite knowing they were going to get smashed at any given second.

David Villa and Sergio Ramos for Spain and Robben again for Holland could have broken the deadlock.

This was more like it. The thrills continued in extra-time with Fabregas denied by Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg. Surely a winner would come before penalties.

When Heitinga was sent off in the 110th minute, the odds on that shortened. And when that ball fell to the instinctive Iniesta it was game over.

Holland were fuming feeling the move that led to the goal started as a result of a foul against them. Such irony. The biter bit.

That’s three defeats in finals now for Holland, but unlike in 1974 and 1978, there won’t be much sympathy for the 2010 Dutchmen.

There will be joy all over the world for Vincente del Bosque’s Spain, though, who have added the golden sculpture to the European Championship trophy won two years ago.

Spain are Champions of the World.

Deservedly so.

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