July 11, 2010 marked a historic date, not only for Spanish football but for the country as a whole.
Spain beat Netherlands 1-0 in the final of the 2010 edition in South Africa to clinch their first Fifa World Cup title. Vincente del Bosque’s side lived up to their potential, becoming the eighth nation to lift the elusive trophy.
The triumph came at an important time for Spain too, providing a major boost for a country that was severely affected by debt and unemployment.
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Spain had entered the tournament as European champions and had a brilliant track record. Del Bosque had taken over the side before 2008 Euro and led the Spanish side to a perfect run during their qualifying campaign, winning all ten games and finishing a massive 11 points ahead of second-placed Bosnia and Herzegovina, scoring 28 goals while conceding just five.
Del Bosque adopted the same philosophy preferred by predecessor Luis Aragones, sticking to quick one-touch passing movements which could help them see more of the ball and control the game. Before the 2010 World Cup, Del Bosque had just suffered one defeat as manager of Spain.
But the World Cup was a different ball game and doubts still remained over La Roja’s ability to lift the title despite a star-studded squad with most players from Real Madrid or Barcelona. Before the World Cup in South Africa, they had never managed to get past the quarter-final stage.
Pitted alongside Chile, Switzerland, and Honduras in Group H, Spain was expected to easily make it past the group stages as toppers. They eventually did, but the road to reach the quarter-finals proved far more difficult.
Their opening 0-1 group stage loss to Switzerland fuelled those doubts but Del Bosque’s side regrouped, registering scores of 2-0, 2-1, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. The goals tally seemed low scarce despite the quality they boasted in their ranks.
In their last four knockout games, they ground out victories scoring just eight goals from seven matches. This would be the first time that the winner of the World Cup scored the fewest amount of goals.
The march to the final
After the defeat against Switzerland opener, Spain beat Honduras comfortably in their second game but were up against Chile in their final group game. Chile, the team in form, had won both their first two matches and Spain needed a win against the South Americans to get past the group stages.
The Spaniards held their nerve to ensure a gritty victory 2-1, with Honduras’ 0-0 draw against Switzerland also sealing Chile’s spot as the second-place team from Group H to qualify.
Tougher test lay ahead for Spain, facing Portugal in the quarter-finals. David Villa scored the winner in that game to get the better of their Iberian neighbours and then again, against Paraguay, to take his goal-scoring tally to five at the event.
Next up were Germany, another title contenders, who were on a hot streak having scored the most goals up to that point. In what was a repeat of the Euro 2008 final, Spain managed to contain Joachim Low’s and progressed to the final after a fine Carlos Puyol header in the second half.
The moment of glory
For all the hype that was built around it, the final against Holland turned out to be a disappointing but ill-tempered affair which went into extra time.
Spain dominated possession early on while the Dutch team remained compact and relied on counter-attacks whenever Spain lost the ball. The deadlock was yet to be broken despite few big chances for both teams.
A total of 14 yellow cards were dished out by referee Howard Webb in the final, including one where Nigel de Jong should’ve seen red in the first half for a reckless kick on Xabi Alonso’s chest. Webb later admitted his mistake, claiming he didn’t see the defensive midfielder making contact with Alonso as he was positioned behind him.
Spain were unable to find the net despite creating more chances than their opponents but were never discouraged.
Having controlled the game so far, Spain were provided a major boost was when Netherlands centre-back Jonny Heitinga became the fifth player to be receive his marching orders in a World Cup final after a foul on Andres Iniesta just outside the box.
It was Iniesta who would make the difference in the end as he netted a dramatic winner deep in extra time to send a dagger into Netherlands’ hearts.
Receiving a pass from substitute Cesc Fabregas inside the penalty area and after getting away from his markers, the Barcelona midfielder drilled his shot into the left-hand corner with great composure past Maarten Stekelenburg.
Iniesta then took of his shirt to celebrate his goal, unveiling a white vest with the touching message to his late friend and footballer: Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros (Dani Jarque, always with us).
“I was only waiting for the pass from Cesc Fabregas and he delivered in a perfect way. He was very quick and for a moment I was alone and I really thought I was offside but I controlled it well and when I hit the ball I knew it had to go in,” Iniesta said in news conference.
“It is difficult to explain,” Iniesta said. “I can only say that I feel very happy. Very happy...playing my football and doing my job and scoring such an important goal for all.
“To be able to make millions of people happy is something priceless. This is what gratifies my job — to be able to make so many people happy who follow us and suffer with the team. People’s happiness has no price.”
This was the first occasion a team that had lost their opening game at the World Cup, went on to clinch the title. Spain also became the first team to win the title on a different continent.
They may have not won the title in the most emphatic fashion but with teamwork, belief and determination, Del Bosque’s side wrote their name in history books.