This was not how Spain envisioned itself winning the World Cup. They had dreams of silky passing and perfect goals, a sumptuous display fit for a coronation. The Netherlands had other ideas.
The climax of the beautiful game’s quadrennial party was nothing pretty—or for that matter, the classic it promised to be on paper. But in 120 minutes of scrapping, Spain’s Andres Iniesta delivered a moment for the purists. Suddenly alone in the Dutch penalty area, in the 119th minute, he ripped his right foot through the bouncing ball and won his country the first World Cup in its history, 1-0.
Click Below to Watch Andres Iniesta’s Winning Goal
In Spain, it will be treated as a matter of destiny, the long-awaited rightful rise of a soccer blueblood. In the Netherlands, the defeat will be mourned as the third defeat in a World Cup final. The generation that grew up hearing of the heartbreaking losses of 1974 and 1978 now knows that same bitter taste. And in Germany, there is an octopus named Paul who must truly be psychic—from his tank in Oberhausen, he correctly predicted the outcome of eight games.
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• Complete coverage of the World CupBefore a crowd of 86,000 in Johannesburg and 700 million more around the world, scoring opportunities were few and far between. Though when they came, they all threatened to be deadly. Sergio Ramos missed with two stunning headers for Spain in regulation. Arjen Robben failed to convert either of his breakaways for the Netherlands—a pair of misses that will haunt him far beyond the next four years.
Spain battled its way to the final by overcoming ugly defensive sides and fiercely sticking to their philosophy that football must first and foremost be beautiful. And it earned them three 1-0 victories in a row. But the stiffest test remained ahead. After Portugal, Paraguay, and Germany, there were the Dutch, every bit as resilient as any of those teams with the attacking flair to wreak havoc. For most of the contest, their muscular approach—which more than once toed the line of fairness—threw a wrench in the well-oiled Spanish machine. A real clinic in soccer realpolitik. Do what is needed, when it’s needed, and see how much the referee lets you get away with.
La Furia Roja stayed calm and stuck to its passes. And still, the bad-tempered second half did not yield a goal. That meant 30 more minutes of soccer. Then, no matter what, the World Cup would be gone for four years.
Before Sunday, neither side had ever scored in extra time. Spain threatened repeatedly, sending wave after wave of blue jerseys into the ocean of orange resistance. The Dutch defended heroically. Led by captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, playing in the last game of his professional career, the repelled the Spanish assaults with every last inch of their cleats. Thighs, knees, toes, and ankles—anything that got in the way of a shot was good enough.
Spain’s wunderkind Cesc Fabregas had an excellent chance in the first period of extra time, only to see his low shot deflected away by the legs of the equally excellent Maarten Stekelenburg in the Dutch goal.
But when the 119th minute came, Stekelenburg’s fingertips could not to push away Iniesta’s shot. Spain had its magical finish. The team that came to South Africa expecting to go home kings, finally had its crown.
Joshua Robinson is a freelance writer based in Manhattan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Sports Illustrated.