History of the World Cup: 2010 – Spain finally comes good

Spain's Andres Iniesta scores the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final. (AP)

A World Cup of firsts: South Africa became the first African country to host the tournament, and Spain became the first new nation to win the competition since France in 1998.

THE MAIN STORY

More than a few eyebrows were raised when South Africa was awarded the 2010 World Cup, with the general belief that it wouldn’t be able to overcome many political and economic obstacles and stage a successful tournament. There was even talk of contingency plans, and other nations stepping in at the last minute to taking over hosting duties. In the end, though, South Africa proved to be gracious hosts, and save for a few hiccups, the tournament came off without any major organizational hitches.

After decades of underachievement and early exits, Spain finally fulfilled its World Cup destiny by becoming only the eighth nation to win the tournament. The Spaniards were coming off their victory at Euro 2008, and travelled to South Africa after winning 49 times and losing just two of their previous 54 matches since November 2006. Doubts remained about Spain’s ability to win “the big one” ahead of this tournament, but they ended up answering those questions in emphatic fashion, overcoming an early setback to easily brush aside opponents in one classy display after another.

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TOURNAMENT FORMAT

The top two teams from each of the eight groups advanced to the knockout round.

THE FINAL

As a sporting spectacle, the final between Spain and the Netherlands was a disappointment. English referee Howard Webb handed out a World Cup final record 14 yellow cards and sent off Dutch defender John Heitinga in extra time. The foul-filled matched never fell into a rhythm, depriving the 84,490 fans in attendance at Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium of their money’s worth.

The Spaniards’ tried to use their beloved Tiki Taka to wear down their opponents. But it’s hard not to walk away without bloody knuckles when you’ve been dragged into a street fight and are no longer playing by Marquess of Queensberry rules. Such was the situation the Spaniards found themselves in against the Dutch.

Spain dictated the pace of the match for the opening 45 minutes, but were continually thwarted by an aggressive and destructive Dutch side that kept kicking at their heels. The physical and tough-tackling Dutch managed to contain Spain’s dynamic midfield trio of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso in a first half that saw goalkeepers Maarten Stekelenburg and Iker Casillas both make big saves.

Spain was rattled, and clearly thrown off its game. Stray passes and harried sequences of play became the norm from the Spanish in the second half, as the Netherlands began to lead the dance. With eight minutes left in regulation, Arjen Robben breezed past defender Carles Puyol, but he dawdled inside the penalty area, allowing Casillas to rush out and smother the ball.

The game seemed destined for a penalty shootout. Then came the turning point, in the 109th minute, when Heitinga earned his second yellow card, this time for tugging down Iniesta. Seven minutes later, the Barcelona star made the Dutch pay for their lack of discipline, breaking into the penalty area and taking a pass from teammate Cesc Fabregas before slotting it by Stekelenburg. It was a brilliant finish by Iniesta, scored with typical Spanish flair and fluidity, and worthy of World Cup winning goal.

QUICK FACTS

Number of participating teams: 32
Top scorer: Germany’s Thomas Müller and three others (5 goals)
Number of games: 64
Total goals scored: 145
Average goals per game: 2.27
Highest scoring game: Portugal’s 7-0 win over North Korea on June 21..
Total attendance: 3,178,856
Average attendance: 49,670

MAN OF THE TOURNAMENT

Andres Iniesta. Uruguay’s Diego Forlan won the tournament MVP and finished tied as the top scorer. But Iniesta was the main orchestrator for the Spaniards, and he scored the extra-time winner in the final to lift his country to glory.

MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT

Spain’s 1-0 win over Germany in the semifinals. The two best teams in the tournament met in Durban in what turned out to be a tight but attacking affair that was settled by Carles Puyol’s bullet header in the 73rd minute.

URUGUAY SURPRISES MANY

Before the tournament, Brazil (with Kaka) and Argentina (Lionel Messi) were touted as the favourites. But Uruguay, led by Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, turned out to be the team to watch from South America, as they won a difficult group (that included France) en route to making the semifinals and finishing fourth overall.

A MODEL OF CONSISTENCY

Spain won all four of its knockout games — second round, quarterfinal, semifinal and final — by the same score: 1-0.

HOST WITHOUT THE MOST

South Africa finished third in Group A behind Uruguay and Mexico, becoming the first host nation in tournament history to bow out in the first round.

QUICK EXITS FOR ITALY, FRANCE

Reigning World Cup champions Italy and 2006 runners-up France were eliminated in the first round of the tournament after both nations failed to win a single game.

WELCOME BACK

North Korea qualified for the first time since 1966. Honduras and New Zealand were both making their first appearances since 1982. Algeria was back at the finals for the first time since the 1986 competition.

LAMPARD CONTROVERSY

Frank Lampard scored against Germany in the second round, but the goal wasn’t given by the ref even though replays showed the ball clearly crossed the line. England went on to lose 4-1, but Lampard’s non-goal sparked a controversy, leading to goal-line technology being used at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

GHANA: THE PRIDE OF AFRICA

Of the six African nations at this tournament, only Ghana progressed out of the first round. The Black Stars became only the third African team to reach the quarterfinals (after Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002). Ghana was poised to make the semifinals when they were awarded a late penalty against Uruguay in the quarterfinals. But Asamoah Gyan failed to convert, and Uruguay went on to win in a dramatic penalty shootout.

EUROPE BESTS SOUTH AMERICA

The quarterfinal round produced three Europe vs. South America match-ups. Germany ended up thrashing Argentina, Spain got the better of Paraguay, and the Netherlands came from behind to oust Brazil.

THOSE DAMN VUVUZELAS

The soundtrack of the 2010 tournament was provided by the vuvuzela, a long horn blown by fans in the stadiums throughout matches. Like a horde of buzzing bees, the sound of fans tooting their vuvuzelas drove a lot of television viewers to complain, and several TV networks even investigated the possibility of minimising the noise during their broadcasts.

BROTHERLY LOVE

In another World Cup first, Honduras’ squad included three brothers: Jerry, Johnny and Wislon Palacios. Also, the first-round match between Germany and Ghana featured two brothers on opposite teams: Jerome Boateng (for the Germans) and Kevin Prince Boateng (for Ghana).

QUIRKY FACTS

• The bidding process for hosting the tournament was open only to African nations. FIFA selected South Africa over Egypt and Morocco.

• Spain is the only European nation to win the tournament outside its home continent.

• New Zealand was the only undefeated team in the tournament with three draws, but was eliminated in the first round.

• Only six out of 13 European teams advanced to the second round, a record low since the round of 16 was adopted in 1986.

• Spain shockingly lost 1-0 to Switzerland in its opening match. Previously, no team had ever won the World Cup after losing its first game.

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