Andres Iniesta emerged from under the bodies of his jubilant teammates as the scorer of the latest-ever World Cup winning goal. The Barcelona midfielder says he didn’t do anything special.
“I’ve made a small contribution in a very tough game,” Iniesta told reporters after his extra time goal sealed a 1-0 victory over the Netherlands at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium yesterday to give Spain its first world title.
To his teammates, the diminutive 26-year-old midfielder was the star of a match that will be remembered more for its brutality than for its beauty. By the end of 120 minutes play, English referee Howard Webb had brandished 14 yellow cards. That’s more than in any previous final during the World Cup’s 80-year history.
“You are the best,” screamed defender Carles Puyol as he burst into a room where Iniesta, voted man of the match for third time in the tournament, was holding a press conference. Central defensive partner Gerard Pique and midfielder Cesc Fabregas followed, clutching beer, to praise the goal scorer.
With the World Cup final four minutes away from being decided by penalties for the second successive tournament, Iniesta ended the Dutch resistance with a half-volley past Maarten Stekelenburg off substitute Fabregas’s pass.
The goal brought celebrations. Iniesta appeared from under a mob of Spain players to reveal a T-shirt commemorating Daniel Jarque, a former teammate who died of a heart attack last year.
“I wanted to carry Dani with me,” Iniesta said. “We wanted to pay tribute to him in the world of football, and this was the best opportunity to do so.”
By the end of the match Iniesta had been brought to the ground eight times, making him the most-fouled player on the field. Five players were cautioned in the first half, four more in the second half, and then another four in extra time, including a second for John Heitinga, which resulted in the Dutch defender being sent off.
“There were all sorts of things happening on the pitch,” Iniesta said.
The Netherlands would have been happy to have won the game playing “ugly” soccer, coach Bert van Marwijk said on the eve of the final. His team was bidding to go one better than its predecessors of the 1970s, which lost two successive World Cup finals.
Last night, Van Marwijk had to defend his approach after the Netherlands accumulated nine of the 14 yellow cards.
“Let me put it this way, it’s not our style to commit horrible fouls,” he told reporters. “It’s not our kind of football. It was a World Cup final and people were tense.”
Video replays showed Dutch midfielder Nigel De Jong kicking Xabi Alonso’s chest midway through the first half, an offense that would normally merit a straight red card. The Manchester City midfielder received a caution.
“You have to go to the limit sometimes to win the game,” De Jong said. “Sometimes you have to put a hard tackle in. That’s part of football. If you don’t put those tackles in, Spain will kill you.”
Spain’s play in the tournament was marked by a passing style that has evolved over the past three years, coach Vicente del Bosque said. According to statistician Opta Ltd., the 3,547 passes completed by his team during its seven matches at the tournament are the most by any team at the World Cup since 1966.
“We have hugely talented players on this team,” said del Bosque, who took charge of Spain following its European Championship victory in June 2008.
The 59-year-old coach was thrown into the air by his team as the players celebrated a victory that makes Spain the first European winner of the World Cup on another continent.
Players including Arsenal midfielder Fabregas vaulted the perimeter advertising boards and charged up to their families seated among the 84,490 crowd.
“I had something inside telling me I would have my chance today,” said Fabregas, whose opportunities in the tournament had mostly been limited to substitute appearances. “I had it and it went brilliantly.”
Amid the celebrations, Iniesta crumpled to his knees and wept. He was helped to his feet by a trio of teammates. “It’s something we have to remember and enjoy, and should feel very proud of everyone in this squad,” said the match-winner.