Things can happen very quickly in football. A lead can be lost inside two minutes, a player can be sold in the blink of an eye and dominant nations in football frequently come to the end of their run. If you had started to watch football at the Brazil World Cup, Spain would have looked like also-rans after early elimination. However, on this day just four years ago they were exerting their control on the world game.
The champions from Euro 2008 entered the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as favourites, which was only increased when they were put in the relatively straightforward Group H, containing Chile, Switzerland and Honduras. Despite a blip in the opening game against the Swiss, in which they lost 1-0, they recovered to top the group and did not look back, taking on the Netherlands in the final on this day in 2010.
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There was even English interest in a major international final for once: Howard Webb was put in charge of the match and had a game to forget. It was a surprisingly heated affair, and Webb might well have sent off both Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong in the first half. De Jong, in particular, was fortunate to escape with a booking for lunging into Xabi Alonso's chest with his studs.
Holland were the more aggressive of the two teams, with seven yellows and a red card to John Heitinga in total, but in between the battle there was plenty of good football played in a very close final. Spain were acutely aware of the opening-day defeat, in which they appeared not to have a plan B to break down a team after going behind. This game, as much talent as was on display, always looked likely to end 1-0 either way.
There were chances at both ends, with Sergio Ramos guilty of missing a header when really well-placed, while Iker Casillas made arguably the save of the match rushing out at the feet of Arjen Robben who was through on goal. Indeed, at that point in the game midway through the second half, Holland were on top and a goal might well have won it, but neither team could find the target in normal time, and the game went to an extra 30 minutes.
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Earlier in the game, Spain had controlled the possession but, as had been the case in the series of 1-0 wins before this one, they lacked something of a cutting edge in attack. Aside from the Ramos chance, there was also a big opportunity for Cesc Fabregas, but he could not beat Maarten Stekelenburg with his shot. The bookings had certainly taken the shine off the game as it went into extra time.
Holland's play did not let off even with the tired legs on the pitch, as finally after 109 minutes the game saw its first red card. Heitinga was shown his second yellow card for hauling back Andres Iniesta just outside the box, while at the other end Joris Mathijsen might have done better with a late header.
In the end it was Iniesta who stole the trophy with just four minutes to play. The Netherlands were incensed that Webb did not give them a corner after a shot deflected off Fabregas, and straight up the other end their complaints were even louder. The Barcelona man drilled an excellent shot across the Dutch goalkeeper to ensure that Spain were top of world as well as just Europe.
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