Four decades and eight years of my life I've spent thinking of the Dutch as a sporting, generous lot, the epitome of sweet reason and fair play. But that belief, that idealized impression, evaporated today in the course of 120 minutes of unlovely, often thuggish, football at the World Cup final in Johannesburg. Spain won, hallelujah, but not after much huffing and puffing to go alongside their geometric, incisive elegance on the ball. Yet if Spain didn't touch the heights of which they are capable, it's because they were always on Orange Alert, hacked and shoved and kicked by the petulant Dutchmen. To their credit, they kept their cool: Spaniards have always been miscast as hotheads; they are, in fact, the masters of sang-froid.
Click Below to Watch Andres Iniesta’s Winning Goal
Spain won one-nothing, taking their first World Cup—one hopes the first of many; the Netherlands have still won nothing, and on today's display—10 yellow cards, and one red—long may their cupboard stay bare, bereft of the one piece of silverware that separates great footballing nations from the also-rans.
• Joshua Robinson: Spain Achieves Its Destiny • Complete coverage of the World Cup In artistic and technical terms the game was scrappy and unmemorable. That is often the case with World Cup finals, apogee-events in which the players' brains grow tense, and their hearts let in too much caution. There is too much at stake for a game of free flow, for football of instinctual passion, for that uncluttered state of mind that allows the conjuring of genius.
Spaniards have always been miscast as hotheads; they are, in fact, the masters of sang-froid.
This final will be remembered not for its play—although Iniesta's goal was a handsome affair, and although both goalkeepers put on an impressive display of the defensive arts; it will be remembered primarily for its result. This isn't merely a truism: What I mean to say is that there cannot be a single aficionado (not even in the Netherlands) who will dispute the cosmic justness of Spain's win. They were better on the day, and they have been better than any team in the world for the last year or two. More than that, they play irrefutable football, football that fathers can watch with their children, football that is cerebral, clean-limbed, dignified, balletic, and immensely loveable—that last because they are not a team of physical giants, but are instead (for the most part) dapper men of modest proportions who wouldn't draw a second glance if they were alongside one in the subway.
Finally, a political observation: It is my fervent wish that Spain's win will knit all Spaniards together in a cheerfully nationalist embrace, causing them to put to one side—or to relegate to inferior status—the many wearisome separatist impulses that exist in that country. We have seen what a united Spain can do, and long may Spain remain one, unsundered nation. Viva España.
Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School. He is a former assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. (Follow him on Twitter here.)