Its the BBC’s coverage for Twinty Tin tonight, a decision vindicated by the probing questioning of Damian Johnson who asks an orange tracksuit clad Clarence Seedorf “Still going for Holland?” The BBC have at least given the occasion suitable gravitas by ensuring their presenter and pundit panel are in full suits tonight rather than their usual Gentlemen’s Club shirt and trousers. And of course the other reason for opting for the Beeb’s coverage is that they know how to put together a damn good sporting montage, the one they produce in the lead up to kick-off being particularly superb.
Odd goings on in the Soccer City tunnel as the Japanese fourth official waves the Dutch team one way then the other before they head out onto the field, passing the trophy placed on a plinth as they do. Sepp Blatter, South African President Jacob Zuma and a host of other dignitaries are introduced to the players and officials before kick-off. Up in the Royal Box the respective Royal families are both in attendance, and either the Dutch Royalty are particularly short or they have been handed extra long scarves. “We all know who the referee is,” says Guy Mowbray, but goes on to give Howard Webb another long introduction none the less. The Dutch are in their home colours and as they break from a pre-match huddle for kick-off Mowbray tells us “Its Orange against clockwork”.
The Dutch give us what turns out to be a taste of things to come committing a succession of niggly fouls inside the opening three minutes. From the last one Spain have the game’s first chance as Xavi whips in a free-kick from the right flank that is met by a diving header from Sergio Ramos and Maarten Stekelenburg makes a great save, diving to his right to turn the ball away. The opening ten minutes are played near exclusively in the Dutch half, though Netherlands do get a brief sight of goal as Sergio Busquets misses a square pass from Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt pounces on it, but his shot is comfortably saved by Iker Casillas. Spain are controlling things though and have another chance as Ramos cuts in from the right, gets past Kuyt and drives the ball across goal where it hits Johnny Heitinga and goes over the bar. From the corner Spain play it short t Alonso and his deep cross picks out David Villa at the far post and he volleys into the side netting.
There have already been a number of poor challenges from the Dutch side before Robin van Persie becomes the first player to be booked, catching Joan Capdevilla, in what is his second foul. Van Persie may well have committed more fouls than he’s had touches as the Dutch are struggling to feed their forward. Carlos Puyol becomes the first Spaniard to be booked two minutes later for a foul on Arjen Robben, who inevitably makes a meal of it such is his way. From the resulting free-kick Wesley Sneijder drills an effort goalwards but Casillas holds it well. Robben is looking like the Netherlands’ best outlet injecting pace and purpose to their play down the right, but what possession he is getting is coming to little more than corners which are subsequently wasted.
What action we are seeing is occurring primarily in and around Howard Webb’s pockets as Mark van Bommell picks up a booking for a particularly late lunge on Andre Iniesta. “Hope no-ones having their tea at home,” says Mark Lawrenson. Ramos then becomes the fourth player booked for a foul on Kuyt and we’re barely midway through the first half. “Its a World Cup Final waiting for something to happen,” says Mowbray and just seconds later something does as Alonso goes for a header only to get the boot of Nigel de Jong square in the chest. It looks accidental from the first angle, but much more fearsome when slowed down and showed over and over again from others. De Jong is booked and as Alonso receives treatment Seedorf offers his thoughts, suggesting there is “a game of chess going on.” “Bit of clattering into chests going on as well”, chips in Lawrenson, still after that guest slot in Dictionary Corner.
Joris Mathijsen pumps a long ball forward and as Casillas comes out to claim it he inadvertently clatters into Carlos Puyol. With Casillas having thrown the ball out so his captain can get treatment play resumes with Heitinga hoofing it downfield back to Casillas, but the bounce deceives him and the Spanish keeper has to stretch to turn the ball behind, whilst glaring at the Dutch centre-back all the time. Thankfully Van Perise very sportingly ushers his team-mates away and rolls the resulting corner straight back to the Spanish ‘keeper. The Dutch are edging back into the game late in the half and have a good chance from a corner as Robben cleverly rolls it back to Van Bommel on the edge of the area who slides it towards Mathijsen at the far post but the defender, unmarked, swings a clear air-kick at the ball. From the restart there is a half chance for Pedro at the other end as he runs at the Dutch defence and but pulls his left foot shot just wide.
Chances are few and far between and those that remain this first half come from set-pieces.First the Dutch clear a dangerous ball in from Xavi and then from a second dead-ball Alonso tries an optimistic shot from more than forty yards but it’s always going wide. A Sneijder free-kick in injury time is cleared only as far as Robben on the edge of the area, but his low shot is turned round the base of his left post by Casillas, and it’s goalless at the break. “Total Football, that’s a laugh, its more like total thuggery” scoffs Alan Hansen in the studio. Alan Shearer is adamant that Webb should have shown two red cards in the first half, but then Shearer has made it clear throughout this tournament that he has a personal grievance with Webb so his words cannot really be taken at face value. The De Jong foul is not looking any prettier mind as they show it again; “That’s a purple not a red” says Lee Dixon oddly.
Spain start the second half lively, and it takes a brilliant challenge from Mathijsen in the opening minute to stop Xavi from getting onto a through ball. Puyol characteristically hurls himself at a corner from the right and gets his head on it to direct it goes across goal and through the legs of Capdevilla who just can’t react quick enough. Netherlands have struggled to get enough men forward to really trouble Spain and that is shown as Van der Wiel breaks forward and gets a deft lay-off from Van Perise, but he’s broken so quickly there is no-one in the area for his low cross. Shortly afterwards Robben has a go from distance but Casillas again gets down to it. Robben looks lively whenever he’s on the ball, but that’s not happening nearly enough for the Dutch.
Heitinga becomes the latest player to be booked as he catches Villa by the touchline. Van Bommel sportingly gives the ball back as unsportingly as he possible can by putting it in the far corner with the sort of accuracy many a scrum-half could only dream of. The Spanish aren’t too impressed though, least of all Vincente del Bosque who stands in his technical area staring at Van Bommel as if he’s just defecated in his kitchen. Van Persie gets a rare sight of goal as he heads over from a Kuyt cross, before the Dutch have the best chance of the game so far. Sneijder releases Robben through the centre with a brilliant pass, and he’s got time to weigh up his options, perhaps too much time, he sends the advancing Casillas the wrong way, but the Spanish keeper swings a foot in the path of the ball and manages to get enough of a touch to knock it wide of the post.
Spain introduced Jesus Navas on the hour mark and he’s given new life to the Spanish play, particularly down the right hand side, but for now at least the Dutch are proving very effective at nullifying Spain and forcing them back away from goal. Van Persie has a chance to break down the right but he’s just caught by Busquets and goes down with the sort of flailing arms and legs normally only seen when Wiley Coyote inadvertently walks of a cliff edge. Twenty minutes to go and Spain should lead; Navas works his way in from the right and drills a low ball across goal. Heitinga makes a mess of it and it goes through his legs to Villa at the far post who takes a touch to set himself and looks set to slot the ball home only for the prone Heitinga to somehow fling out a limb and block Villa’s shot.
Spain are having the better of the game now and Villa is next to threaten advancing into the area from the left channel but his shot is deflected behind. From the resulting corner Ramos arrives unmarked at the far post to meet the ball in but he heads it over the bar when he really should have done better. A good minute later the camera picks him out still with his hands clasped to his face. Iniesta feels he has been fouled by Van Bommel and goes down screaming, but having not been given a free-kick by Webb he decides to barge van Bommel himself and this time the Dutchman flings himself to the floor. “They need to grow up a few of these players” says Lawrenson and for once I’m in total agreement with him. Its Iniesta who is next to threaten a change in the scoreline as he cuts in from the left but Sneijder manages to make a perfectly timed challenge in the area to halt him. Sneijder hauls Iniesta to his feet and the replay shows the two players jogging back into the action laughing.
With Spain pressing there is always a chance Netherlands could break and that is exactly what happens as Robben manages to beat Puyol in a race to a flick on from Van Perise, Robben holds off the defender’s challenge and tries to take the ball round Casillas but the keeper does well to smother the ball from his feet. Robben feels Puyol was holding him back and chases Webb to make it known, but all his vocal harranging brings him is a rightful yellow card for dissent. The Dutch do get one more chance before the final whistle but as Sneijder plays in Van Perise he has already strayed offside. Even with everyone else having long stopped Van Persie can only poke the ball onto the post.
And so the game goes into extra-time. “What will it take to separate the two sides?” asks Gary Lineker. “A piece of magic from Iniesta,” replies Shearer, “A penalty shoot-out,” offers Dixon. One of them will ultimately be proven right. As play resumes Mowbray mentions that Webb chose not to send off Njemander Vidic in the League Cup Final earlier in the season suggesting he “likes to keep a full compliment of players in the showpiece”. Quite a harsh criticism from Mowbray, especially given that Webb didn’t even referee the League Cup Final, Phil Dowd did.
Inside opening couple of minutes of extra-time, Spain feel they should have a penalty as in amongst a gaggle of bodies just inside the area Xavi hits the deck, but if anything the Spaniard has felled himself and Webb is right to just award a corner. The Spanish are looking the most likely to break the deadlock as Iniesta plays in Cesc Fabregas with a perfectly weighted through ball, but as the midfielder tries to slot the ball home Stekelenburg has come out to close and saves brilliantly with his legs. There is no time to think of what might have been though as within a minute there’s a chance at the other end as the Dutch force a corner and Mathijsen meets it and can only head it over the bar. Another chance for Spain next as Fabregas this time feeds Iniesta and he looks to be in on goal only for Giovani van Bronckhosts to get across to meet him and make a perfect challenge. Still Spain push and Navas is next to threaten, coming in from the right of the area he sends in a shot which takes a deflection off Van Bronckhorst to completely deceive Stekelenburg but it flies just wide of the post. Extra-time has proved much more lively than the previous ninety minutes, though the first half ends without a goal.
In comparison the second period starts relatively tamely until four minutes in when Iniesta tries to get onto a flicked pass through from Xavi and goes down with Heitinga’s hand on his shoulder. The Dutch defender has pulled him back and Webb has no option but to show him a second yellow card and Netherlands are down to ten men. Van Bommel has moved into the centre of defence, perhaps increasing his chances of following Heitinga in the final ten minutes. That said Robben can count himself lucky not to be dismissed as he is flagged offside and being the irritating petulant arse he is he decides to poke the ball into Casillas’ net anyway. Webb rather leniently decides against issuing a second yellow card.
With five minutes remaining Spain break forward led by Navas who gets the ball out to Torres on the left. The forward’s cross comes to Fabregas on the edge of the area and he feeds Iniesta in space who rifles the ball it into the bottom corner to send the Spanish team wild, as the whole squad streams off to the corner flag. “Somewhere beneath that pile of players is Andre Iniesta” yells Mowbray. The Dutch meanwhile are inexplicably taking their anger out on the linesman on the far side though given that Iniesta was clearly onside its hard to understand why. Mathijsen hurls the ball away in disgust at whatever it is that is bothering him and in doing so becomes the next player to be booked, rightly cautioned for dissent. The Dutch spend the final minutes lumping the ball forward. Torres pulls up with a hamstring injury chasing a long clearance down field and with Spain having made all their substitutions its ten men against ten men for the final minutes. The Dutch hoof one last ball into the area, but it gets away from them and the final whistle sounds to signal the start of Spain’s reign as World Champions.
The Spanish celebrate whilst much of the Dutch squad hare toward the match officials completely unnecessarily. They’re going apoplectic at Webb and his assistants, but over what it’s not clear as if any side has benefitted from the decisions made by Webb in this game then it has been them. The Dutch have set out to stifle the Spanish from the start and their approach to the game was always likely to lead to cautions and duly a sending off. It is that which meant Iniesta had the space from which to score the winner and so for all their yelling and looking for scapegoat, as Lawrenson says, “They’ve only got theirselves to blame”.
The entire Royal Box is out on the balcony to award the medals, flanked inexplicably by a row of air-hostesses. The officials are up first to collect their mementos and as they are announced the stadium erupts into an almighty chorus of inevitable booing. The Dutch trundle up to get their runners-up medals next, their substitutes seemingly clad in pyjamas. Manager Bert van Marwijk is consoled by Crown Prince Alexander who is a decidedly orange man indeed. Orange scarf, orange hair, orange face. The Spanish collect their medals before being ushered over toward a special bit of balcony for receipt of the trophy. There is a strong chance that Sepp Blatter may be nudged over the edge during the celebrations. Sadly he isn’t. And so Spain jump around in a shower of golden ticker tape whilst out on the field the Dutch simply stand and watch, to a man drained of energy and emotion, like a set of unwanted mannequins.