Spain prevails in final filled with tension, yellow cards

CanWest News Service
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SOCCER/WORLD CUP

If it is a Spanish masterpiece you were after, try Las Meninas by Velazquez at the Prado art gallery in Madrid.

Because far from a celebration of the beautiful game, Spain's 1-0 extra-time FIFA World Cup 2010 final triumph over an ill-tempered Dutch side more intent on Total Anarchy than Total Football deteriorated into a dreary melodrama salvaged only by a decision at the death.

Prissy petulance. A scarcity of goals. Crude tackles (one chilling challenge saw Nigel de Jong trying to cut Xabi Alonso in half with a chest-high Eric Cantona kung fu kick). More overwrought play-acting than you'd find at a community dinner theatre.

Spain's Andres Iniesta (6) scores the only goal of Sunday's World Cup final, booting the ball past Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg (left) 26 minutes into extra time at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa. The 1-0 win gave the Spanish the

JOHANNESBURG -

If it is a Spanish masterpiece you were after, try Las Meninas by Velazquez at the Prado art gallery in Madrid.

Because far from a celebration of the beautiful game, Spain's 1-0 extra-time FIFA World Cup 2010 final triumph over an ill-tempered Dutch side more intent on Total Anarchy than Total Football deteriorated into a dreary melodrama salvaged only by a decision at the death.

Prissy petulance. A scarcity of goals. Crude tackles (one chilling challenge saw Nigel de Jong trying to cut Xabi Alonso in half with a chest-high Eric Cantona kung fu kick). More overwrought play-acting than you'd find at a community dinner theatre.

All the ills soccer's critics use as ammunition in their attacks were on unfortunate display with a worldwide television audience of more than 700 million mulling over a change in channel. This included the woe-is-us Dutch constantly chasing harassed English referee Harold Webb down the pitch in exasperation.

Webb, a former police officer, handed out tickets as if he were a bobbie on New Year's Eve in Piccadilly Circus, all tallied up to 14 yellow cards (nine to the Netherlands) one red, to Dutch defender John Heitinga in the 110th minute.

Only the emotional appearance of 92-year-old South African icon of peace Nelson Mandela following the 45-minute closing ceremonies and a touching gesture from Spain match winner Andres Iniesta to a departed friend pulled the evening up out of the gutter.

After volleying home a goal in the 116th minute and sparing 84,000 fans having to stick around an additional half-hour or so for penalties, Il Illusionista ripped off his sweater to display the message 'Dani Jarque siempre con consotros.'

Which translated means: Dani Jarque is always with us.

Jarque, an Spanish defender and friend of Iniesta's, suffered a heart attack before a pre-season game in Italy in 2009.

"This is for Dani Jarque, for my family, for all of the people,' Iniesta said afterwards. "It is the result of hard work over a long time and some difficult moments."

Many of those difficult moments occurred Sunday. The Dutch game plan - they fibbed about trying to aggressively attack the stylized Spanish - of gumming up the works and then setting off on the counter almost paid off. Twice Robben had great chances, only to be denied by goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Robben also went ballistic when he felt he'd been tugged back by Spanish defender Carles Puyol on a break, although replays showed the challenge to be slight. There was certainly a lot of bile being spewed, and that stupid habit current players have of indicating that a card should be issued on every illegal tackle was close to being epidemic.

"We are angry because we were so close," griped Oranje striker Dirk Kuyt. "The referee was slightly more for them than for us. It ultimately cost us the Cup."

No, boorish behaviour most accounted for that.

Thank creation for Iniesta. He personally took the game over in extra time, carving open a stout but flagging Dutch defence, sending Cesc Fabregas in only to have Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Steklenburg bravely come out to challenge. Then Iniesta himself was caught too long in possession on a superb opportunity instead of shooting.

In the 116th minute, though, after Sergio Ramos had sailed a free header over the crossbar, Iniesta pounced, played onside by Rafael van der Vaart. The superb Steklenburg got his right hand to the volley but it had enough power to reach the back of the net.

"Spain deserved to win this World Cup," said Iniesta. "It's something we have to remember and enjoy, and should feel very proud of everyone in this squad. The manner in which it happened, we gave everything. To win the World Cup - there are no words to describe it."

There was one word to describe the game: Disappointing.

"Obviously, we're devastated by the result," said Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk, more gracious in defeat than his players. "We were down to 10 men but almost made it to penalties. You have to say the better team won, but losing the World Cup final is hard to take. Spain created far more chances, but Arjen Robben twice came within inches of scoring for us. If he had, I think we'd have been world champions."

Instead Spain sits atop the world. And rightly so, given the quality and intelligence of their play. The best team won this World Cup, even if the show was far from compelling.

Organizations: FIFA World Cup 2010

Geographic location: Spain, JOHANNESBURG, Madrid Netherlands Italy

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