Spain 1 Netherlands 0
Spain: Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets, Alonso (Fabregas 87); Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro (Navas 60); Villa (Torres 105)
Netherlands: Stekelenberg; Van Der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst (Braafheid 105); De Jong (Van der Vaart 99), Van Bommel; Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt (Elia 70); Van Persie
So, the curtain has fallen on the 2010 World Cup and Spain, almost certainly the best footballing side in the competition, have claimed the first world title in their long and rich history. They did it with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in Johannesburg, overcoming some robust, occasionally brutal, Dutch defending which threatened to disrupt the smooth pass-and-move game that Del Bosque’s side played throughout the tournament.
Combined with their European Championships title in 2008, tonight’s historic victory must surely add further weight to the argument that this group of players should be considered as one of the greatest international teams of all time. This was a triumph four years in the making.
Teams as anticipated
Both teams were set up in nominal 4-2-3-1 systems, the Netherlands in their “broken” formation with the clear distinction between those players designated to attack and those to defend, whilst the Spanish again adopted their fluid but narrow shape, relying on the overlapping runs of Sergio Ramos and, to a lesser extent, Joan Capdevila for width from full-back.
Vicente Del Bosque, as was widely anticipated, again omitted Fernando Torres from an otherwise very predictable starting eleven, preferring Pedro on the left flank where he switched wings with Andres Iniesta regularly as we saw in the semi-final against Germany. Bert van Marwijk was also able to select his team from a full complement of players, choosing what has come to be seen as his best side with Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong returning from suspension to slot back into the line-up.
A stylistic clash
Much of the talk before the match had centred around how this final was a clash of two very different styles, a pragmatic Dutch side facing the “Tiki-Taka” of the Spanish with the Dutch “Total Football” legacy of the 1970s being echoed in the approach of Del Bosque’s players. Indeed, this stylistic clash did come to pass, but not necessarily in the form it had been anticipated.
From the very start the Netherlands looked to get to Spain using physicality and aggression that spilled over into recklessness all too often. Of course, Van Marwijk cannot be blamed for trying to disrupt the Spanish passing game, something that his side did very effectively for sustained periods of the game, but their methods were at times very dubious. Cynical challenges from the likes of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong seemingly targeted the creative players in the Spain midfield and disjointed what little flow the game had managed to gather in the early stages.
Change of personnel, change of tempo
With the game a largely scrappy affair, it was to the coaches’ credit that they tried to open the game up by introducing extra width and pace to their attacks. Del Bosque was the first to make a change, bringing Jesus Navas on for Pedro on the hour before van Marwijk followed suit by replacing Dirk Kuyt with Hamburg winger Eljero Elia in an attempt to get in behind Sergio Ramos and force the Real Madrid defender into a much deeper position to negate his significant attacking threat.
The changes served to increase the general tempo of the match and saw chances created with a greater regularity as the Dutch threatened to snatch victory, going remarkably close to taking the lead on a number of occasions as they broke with greater efficiency as the game progressed.
However, Spain had unquestionably been the better side throughout from a technical perspective and pressed even harder for the win during extra-time. When John Heitinga was dismissed with just ten minutes to go the game had a feeling of inevitability about it, Andres Iniesta’s excellent strike four minutes from time earning his team a well-deserved victory in the face of what had been a hostile performance from the Dutch.
World football’s new superpower
Make no mistake about it, this was far from being one of the classic World Cup finals, but it is significant in that it gives resounding vindication to the Spanish style of play and now places this team amongst the greatest the game has seen. It may not be fashionable to classify contemporary teams alongside past greats but, when you consider their performances over the last three or four years, this group of players deserve all the plaudits they will undoubtedly receive from around the globe.
World football has a new superpower, a confident, technically brilliant Spanish team that will look to retain its European crown in two years time and could still be together when the World Cup heads to Brazil in 2014. There could be much more to come from La Furia Roja yet.