After 30 days, 64 games and countless unforgettable moments, it came down to one strike to win the 2010 World Cup. After 116 minutes of agonizing back-and-forth, Andres Iniesta’s thrilling strike finally lifted Spain above the Netherlands, handing La Roja their country’s first World Cup title.
Spain entered the tournament in a solid position; the reigning European Champions emerged from qualifying with a perfect record of nine wins. But they stumbled out of the blocks in South Africa, dropping a shocking 1-0 loss to Switzerland. Struggling to cope with an injury-hampered Fernando Torres, the tip of the Spanish spear was blunted, and fears grew that they would, once again, underachieve on the world’s biggest stage.
But Vicente del Bosque’s men improved with each game. With Torres in poor form, David Villa stepped up, finding a glittering scoring touch twice against Honduras, and again against Chile to see the Spanish top Group H and advance to the knockout stages.
Spain’s round of sixteen matchup against Portugal was as much grudge match as soccer game, with the Iberian rivalry one of the most hotly contested in Europe. The stylish and attacking Spaniards eventually overcame Portugal’s all but impregnable defence, and David Villa won local bragging rights in the 63rd-minute, hammering in his own rebound to settle the contest.
The quarterfinal matchup against Paraguay looked like easier pickings for the strengthening Spaniards, but the match turned out to be a hard-fought contest. Spain benefited from a controversial offside decision that called an apparent goal by Nelson Valdez’s in the first half. A wild few minutes saw Spain give away a penalty—which Iker Casillas saved—and get awarded a penalty, which was converted, called back, then saved by Paraguay’s Justo Villar. In the end it fell to David Villa to lift his country once again, and he dashed South American hopes with a poached goal just seven minutes from time.
If Spain were favoured against Paraguay, many considered them the underdogs against a high-scoring German team that seemed bound for the finals. But the Spanish put in their finest match of the tournament in Durban, playing on the jitters of the young German side, controlling possession and soaking up the lethal German counterattacks. After 73 minutes Spain’s dominance paid off, and veteran defender Carles Puyol hammered in a header from Xavi’s corner kick. Spain’s third 1-0 victory in a row booked their place in their first World Cup final ever, giving them a precious chance to finally erase their reputation as perennial underachievers.
With a matchup between the Dutch, pioneers of ‘total football’, and the Spanish, masters of passing and fluid attack, the table seemed set for an appetizing final. But the match proved to be more snippy than sweeping, more biting than beautiful as the Dutch and Spanish set in to a brutal contest that produced a record 15 cards and nearly 50 fouls. The nervous stalemate dragged on through halftime, through full time, through injury time. Both sides had their chances—Dutch master Arjen Robben twice slicing through on goal, and Sergio Ramos latching onto a glorious headed chance—but both goalkeepers stepped up to keep their country’s hopes alive. The pace of the game, always stunted by persistent fouling by both sides stepped up with the introduction of Jesus Navas and, later, Cesc Fabregas—who nearly settled things with a surging run, but was stopped by Maarten Stekelenburg.
By the second period of extra time, the atmosphere seemed almost too tense for a goal to settle things, and, even with the Dutch reduced to 10 men after John Heitinga was sent off for a second yellow card, the contest seemed fated for penalty kicks. But Spain would not be denied. Four minutes from the end of extra time, Andres Iniesta snuck through the Dutch defense and slammed home a half volley that brushed Stekelenburg’s fingers. Soccer City erupted at the goal that will forever be etched in Spanish soccer history. Elated and exhausted after the long campaign, Spain have emerged as the first country to be concurrent European and World Cup Champions since West Germany in 1974.