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Spain reigns at World Cup

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Associated Press
July 12, 2010
— Spain rules the soccer world, winning the World Cup at long, long last.

It came after an exhausting 1-0 victory in extra time over the Netherlands on Sunday. Two years after winning the European title, the stylish Spaniards did even better.


This was a physical test of attrition that sometimes turned dirty—a finals-record 13 yellow cards were handed out and the Dutch finished with 10 men. In the end, it was Andres Iniesta breaking free in the penalty area, taking a pass from Cesc Fabregas and putting a right-footed shot from 8 yards just past the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg with about seven minutes still to play, including injury time.


“When I struck it, it just had to go in,” Iniesta said.


For the Dutch and their legions of orange-clad fans wearing everything from jerseys to jumpsuits to clown gear to pajamas, it was yet another disappointment.


Even with their first World Cup title tantalizingly within reach, they failed in the final for the third time. This one might have been the most bitter because, unlike 1974 and 1978, the Netherlands was unbeaten not only in this tournament, but in qualifying for the first World Cup staged in South Africa.


Soccer City was soaked in Oranje, from the seats painted in that hue throughout the stadium to pretty much everyone seated in them. Unlike when they lost to hosts West Germany and Argentina in previous finals, the Dutch were something of a home team this time.


The Spaniards, though, were the winners.


“We have all done an incredible job,” Iniesta said. “I don’t think we even realize what we have done.”


They had pockets of supporters, too, to be sure, dressed in red and scattered around the stadium. They might have been the minority, but when the final whistle blew, they were tooting their vuvuzelas loudest in tribute to their champions.


The goal in the 116th minute came off a turnover by the Dutch defense that Fabregas controlled just outside the penalty area. Iniesta stayed on the right and sneaked in to grab the pass and put his shot to the far post. Stekelenburg barely brushed it with his fingertips as it soared into the net.


Iniesta tore off his jersey after the goal and raced to the corner, where he was mobbed by his teammates. Several Dutch players wiped away tears as they received their medals as runners-up—yet again. They won every qualifying match and all six previous games in South Africa before the bitter ending.


The Netherlands now has more victories in World Cup games without a title than any nation: 19. Spain held that dubious record with 24.


Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk took off his silver medal as soon as left the podium, with a look of disgust on his face.


The Spaniards saluted their fans with arms raised high, then lifted their coach, Vicente del Bosque, in the air in celebration.


“This is immeasurable for Spain,” Del Bosque said.


Goalkeeper Iker Casillas, the captain, accepted the trophy from FIFA president Sepp Blatter, kissed it and raised it for all to see.


Soon, the entire team and staff gathered at midfield for a group photo.


“It’s the most beautiful that there is. It’s spectacular,” Iniesta said, referring to the gold ball.


Second-ranked Spain started this World Cup in the worst way, losing to Switzerland. But Spain won every game after that, including a 1-0 victory over powerful Germany that was far more one-sided than the score indicated. No other nation has won the World Cup after losing its opener.


Before the game, former South African president Nelson Mandela received a huge ovation when he was driven onto the field on a golf cart. A smiling Mandela waved to the fans as the vuvuzelas buzzed throughout Soccer City.



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