Holland 0 Spain 1
So Cesc Fabregas didn’t miss the World Cup after all.
As it turned out, Fabregas came on just before extra time and made the most important pass in the history of Spanish football.
His pass went to Iniesta, who smashed home the half-volley that beat the Dutch thugs.
After 31 days of football in South Africa, Spain had won the World Cup for the first time.
Cesc Fabregas was a champion again. Interviewed in the heat of that huge moment, the sensible Arsenal captain said that to win the European Championship and the World Cup at the age of 23 was great, was unbelievable.
All along, for the last five or six weeks, I’ve had a feeling that Fabregas would do something big. Even when he wasn’t playing, even when he wasn’t coming on, even when he was deeply frustrated, I felt that he would make a difference. Fabregas is that kind of character, that kind of footballer, someone you believe in.
Spain deserved this World Cup. They were the best team in the tournament.
But they missed sitters, conceded chances, and a stuttering, simmering, scrappy final had almost reached a penalty shoot-out when Fabregas produced the pass for the goal that ended Spain’s long inferiority complex.
The biggest disgrace was not that Holland fouled so often and so viciously. The biggest disgrace was that Holland obviously planned to kick, provoke and disrupt, planned to make the World Cup Final a stop-start shambles of a game.
What they did was not a reaction to anything that Spain did in the game. The Oranje bully boys decided to kick their Spanish opponents out of their passing rhythm and then nick a goal on the break.
Fortunately for football, Spain were not intimidated, carried on trusting their game, and scored a typical Barcelona goal to win the World Cup.
In the semi-final against Germany, it had taken them 73 minutes to score with a Puyol header from a corner and in the final it took them 116 minutes to fire home an Iniesta shot in open play.
A Dutch World Cup success would have been a victory for violence and a really bad advertisement for football. Thank God that did not happen.
Vicente Del Bosque’s first two subs contributed a lot to the match and to the winning goal. Jesus Navas, on for Pedro after an hour, changed the game by giving Spain a real threat on the right flank and his 40-yard dribble started the move that brought the all-important late goal.
It was soon clear that the Dutch had decided to keep fouling to break up the rhythm of Spain’s possession football.
Van Persie whacked Capdevila and was given a yellow card, Puyol got one for his foul on Robben, Mark van Bommel could have been off for ploughing through Iniesta, and De Jong should have had a straight red card for a shocking kung-fu kick into Xabi Alonso\’s chest.
If that horror tackle is not violent conduct, what is? The incident came after Xavi volleyed square to Xabi Alonso, who headed the ball back to him as De Jong lunged in dangerously with his right boot as high as he could lift it. On the replay, De Jong was two yards away when Xabi Alonso headed the ball back to the unmarked Xavi, and then De Jong’s studs rammed into Xabi Alonso’s left upper chest.The X-certificate slow-motion replay made it look like a trauma that could have stopped Alonso’s heart beating, a foul that might require paramedics rather than a physio. It was surprising that Alonso recovered so quickly.
That De Jong atrocity was the worst foul of this World Cup and the most vicious by a Dutch midfielder since Jan Wouters smashed Paul Gascoigne’s cheekbone with a well-aimed elbow in a 1993 World Cup qualifier at Wembley.
Heitinga’s late hack on Iniesta deserved and got a yellow card. And so it went on.
The Dutch game-plan was organised brutality. Calculated brutality, nothing less.
It looked as if Spain were losing the tactical battle because they were being funnelled into a narrow, deep area where they were unable to create much. It was very cagey game, as we had all expected, but it was much rougher than any showcase game should be. Both teams used two holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation and both concentrated on cancelling the main threats of their opponents. Key player Wesley Sneijder had hardly had a sniff. As a demonstration of marking and ruthless nullification, it was remarkable. Jose Mourinho probably loved it.
Spain looked scared of losing and I wondered who would seize the initiative and score the goal. All week I had been resigned to it being a one-goal game. Millions of us made the obvious bet on Under 2 Goals.
When Sneijder’s only killer pass of the game released Robben in 62, the supercool Casillas stood up for an improbably long time as Robben dribbled towards him for the biggest one-on-one of the last four years, a dramatic duel in front of an 80,000 crowd and 700 million television viewers.
Casillas was waiting calmly on the penalty spot as the flying winger raced straight at him. Robben and Casillas both knew that big matches are decided by moments like this, defined by moments like this, remembered for moments like this. The Real Madrid keeper waited for a very short time that must have seemed like forever, then dived to his left as Robben shot to his right. Robben saw his shot clip the right boot of Casillas and go past the post. Another two inches and it was a goal.
That wasn’t just the biggest moment of the game so far, it was the biggest moment of Arjen Robben’s life because it was the moment he nearly won the World Cup that Holland have been trying to win for 32 years.
When Xavi took a left wing corner, Sergio Ramos made a cute dummy run and, from seven yards, headed the ball over the bar with top of his skull.
Then, amazingly, a Robin van Persie flick-on released Robben again, and the little hot-shot had to reach down into his guts and pull out another scorching sprint towards Casillas, this time with Puyol hanging round his waist. Somehow, with Puyol impeding him, Robben maintained his acceleration and balance and scooted on into the box. But it was a far harder chance than the one 20 minutes earlier and the sprawling Casillas saved again. Angry now, Robben showed good pace in pursuit of Howard Webb and was given a yellow card for dissent.
By the time Fabregas came on for Alonso in 86, Spain had tried everything and were losing a 0-0 draw.
Just before extra time started, Alan Hansen said, “I’m desperate for Spain to win.”
Arsenal’s main man made an immediate impact. Iniesta played a slide-rule pass into the run of Fabregas but his left-foot shot hit the shin of Stekelenburg. The big keeper had taken up a textbook position. A Fabregas pass then found Iniesta in the box but he dithered and Gio van Bronckhorst took the ball off him. A Navas shot deflected off GVB into the sidenetting
Then Fabregas made a bold run with the ball and got into the D but his shot went wide.
At half time of extra-time, Fernando Torres came on for David Villa, who wasn’t quite fast enough or strong enough, and had been snatching at half-chances. When Heitinga pushed Iniesta down in 109, he was given a second yellow card and then a red.
At last, Webb had sent someone off. Hallelujah !
It was very difficult for Howard Webb and none of the referees down there would have handled an impossible situation any better. If he had sent off Van Bommel after 22 minutes, the World Cup Final would have been about Howard Webb from that point on. And since the Dutch were so intent on destruction, there was no guarantee that they would have stopped kicking. When Arjen Robben admitted before the game that Holland were prepared to win ugly, we had no idea how nasty they would be.
With 10 men, the Dutch now looked finished unless they could stretch it to a penalty shoot-out. But they were still not dead and when Sneijder took a freekick in 115, the ball went for a corner off Fabregas’s shoulder. Webb gave a goal kick, his second worst decision of the night after not giving a red card to Nigel De Karate in 28 minutes.
Immediately, sub Jesus Navas carried the ball 40 yards down the right and the move reached Torres and his ball into the box was half-cleared to Fabregas, whose pass found Iniesta unmarked on the right. Iniesta promptly banged in the goal that won the World Cup.
Xavi and Iniesta had rocked and rolled and wobbled a bit during a long battle, as any footballers would do, but the pair showed remarkable stamina to persevere and win Spain’s first World Cup.
Fernando Torres was a paper tiger who miscontrolled one pass so badly that the ball dropped nine yards from him. When has anybody seen this once-supreme technician do that? It was the ball-control of a pub player. Sprinting for a long pass in injury time of extra time, Torres pulled his groin. Why was he out there? Because he was once a phenomenal gladiator who gave them a bigger range of options in attack. Spain are flat without Torres, rather one-dimensional and precarious, just as Barcelona can look predictable without Messi’s magic to make it incisive.
VERDICT : The Dutch disgraced the biggest event in the world’s most popular sport. What they did was despicable and disgusting. I hope those players will feel shame in future years. They should certainly not blame Howard Webb for their defeat. They should have played football.
HOLLAND (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg (Ajax); Van der Wiel (Ajax), Heitinga (Everton), Mathijsen (Hamburg), Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord); Van Bommel (Bayern Munich), De Jong (Manchester City); Robben (Bayern Munich), Sneijder (Inter), Kuyt (Liverpool); Van Persie (Arsenal); Subs used: Elia (Hamburg) for Kuyt, 70; Van de Vaart (Real Madrid) for De Jong, 100; Braafheid (Celtic) for Van Bronckhorst, 105.
SPAIN (4-2-3-1): Casillas (Real Madrid); Ramos (Real Madrid), Pique (Barcelona), Puyol (Barcelona), Capdevila (Villarreal); Busquets (Barcelona), Alonso (Real Madrid); Iniesta (Barcelona), Xavi (Barcelona), Pedro (Barcelona); Villa (Barcelona); Subs used: Navas (Seville) for Pedro, 59; Fabregas (Arsenal) for Alonso, 87; Torres (Liverpool) for Villa, 105.
Booked: Van der Wiel, Van Persie, Van Bommel, De Jong, Van Bronckhorst, Heitinga (2), Robben, Mathijsen; Puyol, Ramos, Capdevila, Iniesta, Xavi.
Sent off : Heitinga (110).
Crowd at Soccer City, Soweto: 84,490.