Spain worthy winners on a tough night for Webb
World Cup 2010: Johannesburg
Tears poured from the face of Spain captain Iker Casillas at the sound of the final whistle - but there was no sadness from the goalkeeper, only joy. Andres Iniesta's goal four minutes before the end of extra-time had given the Spanish their first World Cup triumph - and there is no doubt that they deserved it.
They might have lost their opening game but they won the six that followed and conceded just twice in the entire tournament. They may have scored a mere eight goals - the lowest tally ever by a trophy-winning side - and won all their knock-out games 1-0 but this was no repeat of Greece in Euro 2004, no attempt by a limited team to pack their midfield, stifle their opponents and strike on the counter attack.
No, this Spain team moved the football and teased their opposition with intelligence, skill and technical brilliance. They did it until their opponents could no longer resist the passing and probing of a team that treated the ball as its friend, even the much-reviled Jabulani.
There was no finer example of that than Sunday's final encounter at Soccer City. The Netherlands left nothing on the field after a performance that saw them harass and harry their opponents but Spain enjoyed 60% of the possession and gradually ran their opponents into the ground.
It was not a major surprise that, apart from Sergio Ramos's early header, Vicente del Bosque's side created most of their openings in the latter stage of the contest.
The timing of Iniesta's winner was also consistent with Spain's manner of victory in the knock-out stages of this competition. They scored after 63 minutes against Portugal, 82 against Paraguay, 73 against Germany and 116 in the final. They passed their opponents into submission before delivering the decisive blow.
Just look at the statistics. Going into Sunday's match, Spain completed 3,387 passes, with Xavi alone executing 464 of them and Gerard Pique, a central defender, totalling 378. The Netherlands, in contrast, managed 2,434.
Spain deserved to win this World Cup, as Iniesta claimed after the game, but this was not a classic final, far from it. The first half was extremely disappointing.
There was a definite niggle between the two sets of players - and plenty of theatrics. Robben was particularly guilty, both in the way he protested against decisions and the manner in which he went to ground.
The Netherlands were obviously intent on stopping Spain, although Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk insisted his players stayed within the law. "It is not our style to commit horrible fouls, it is not our kind of football," he pleaded.
Nine bookings and a red card for defender John Heitinga tell a different story, although Marwijk laid some of the blame at the door of referee Howard Webb, the first Englishman to take charge of a World Cup final since Jack Taylor in 1974.
The 38-year-old Yorkshireman set a new record for a World Cup final by issuing a total of 14 yellow cards during the contest.
There is no doubt that he made a few mistakes. He should arguably have given Nigel de Jong a straight red in the opening half after the Manchester City midfielder floored Xabi Alonso with an absurdly high boot to his opponent's chest. Dutch enforcer Mark van Bommel could also have been sent from the field for repeated fouling, including a crude scythe on Iniesta that resulted in a booking.
But it was Webb's display in the final few minutes that really infuriated the Dutch, in particular his failure to award them a corner when a free-kick took a sizeable deflection off Fabregas. Webb gave a goal-kick instead - and within a minute, Spain scored.
At the final whistle, the official was surrounded by complaining Dutchmen, with Robben briefly suspending his crushing disappointment to run towards the official, thereby joining several team-mates in close proximity of the referee.
Yet Robben might be better served contemplating how he missed a gilt-edged chance to put his side in front in the second half. I thought he was his team's most threatening player but, after collecting a wonderful defence-splitting pass from Wesley Sneijder, he could find no way beyond the excellent Casillas.
It was a real head-in-hands moment for the ex-Chelsea player - and the camera cut back to him several times over the following minute, each time capturing an image of disbelief.
It came as no surprise when Webb was roundly booed by the Netherlands supporters as he collected his medal but the Dutch had a plan to stop a superior team - and that plan was always going to bring the referee into play.
But enough about Webb. Let's now focus on the match-winner: Iniesta.
I am a huge fan of the 26-year-old midfielder, who is not only a gifted footballer but also, it seems to me, a man of huge integrity. After scoring the goal that gave Spain victory, he removed his top to reveal a T-shirt with a hand-written message on it. We have seen plenty of these down the years but this one struck me as being particularly memorable. It said: "Dani Jarque: siempre con nosotros". It means "Dani Jarque - always with us" and refers to the Espanyol player who died at the age of 26 on a pre-season tour last year.
Espanyol are city rivals of Barcelona but Iniesta was a team-mate of Jarque's with the Spanish Under-17, Under-19, Under-20 and Under-21 teams. The two men were great friends and Iniesta was greatly upset by Jarque's death.
Iniesta's gesture was without doubt my favourite moment of the final. It told me that Iniesta and his team have a style and class that transcends their footballing ability.
Without question, Spain are worthy champions.
Edited by music_4321 - 7/14/10 at 4:58am