An Andres Iniesta goal was enough to make Spain the world champions as La Roja beat Holland 1-0.
However, the truth of the game was that Holland were cynically brutal and that the referee, Howard Webb, ruined what should have been a spectacle of good football.
The ultimate goal for any footballer is to play and win in a World Cup final. After tonight, Holland will be having nightmares as they allowed their manager's destroying style to overrun their own inherent flair while Spain played all the football.
A First Half to Forget:
The match opened up at a frantic pace as Spain looked to stamp their authority on the game. Xavi and Iniesta, as ever, probed and looked for any sign of weakness in the Dutch rearguard.
In response to Spain's dynamic start, Holland tried to muscle their way into the game by giving away a number of innocuous free kicks in relatively safe areas.
With Holland struggling to come to terms with the football on display from Xavi in particular, they began to push up to shorten the playing area. Spain, sensing this, sent quick penetrative balls through to Villa, only for him to be called offside twice in the opening couple of minutes.
Holland retreated back to the edge of the box and continued their physical approach with van Bronckhurst being caught out of position as Sergio Ramos was allowed to run on him by Dirk Kuyt. The ex-Barcelona man took down his only Real Madrid nemesis close to the halfway line.
Xavi's whipped cross was met by the head of Sergio Ramos when all and sundry were watching Puyol. His firm header was parried away by Stekelenberg as Spain went close to opening the scoring.
Spain continued to knock the ball around with ease with the Dutch growing more and more frustrated, and Robin van Persie picked up a deserved yellow card for his second foul of the game.
With Spain dominating the game, Holland were reduced to long direct balls into van Persie and it was from one of these that the Dutchman drew a foul out of Carles Puyol, and a yellow card into the bargain. Unfortunately, the free kick was a timid effort and was easily saved by the best 'keeper in South Africa, Iker Casillas.
The first certainty of the World Cup final happened in the 26th minute, when Mark van Bommel picked up a yellow card for a dirty tackle on Iniesta after the Bayern man clattered into the Spaniard playmaker from behind.
Three minutes later, his midfield compatriot, Nigel De Jong, was lucky not to see red when his vicious high-footed challenge caught Xabi Alonso in the chest as the Real Madrid man was leaping to control the ball.
It was yellow card number five of what looked to become a nasty match that suited Holland right down to the ground.
By the midway mark, Holland had settled into the tactic of turning the game into a war of attrition. They were chomping down on every tackle and marking Alonso, Xavi, and Iniesta extremely tightly. Giovani van Bronckhurst was following Pedro all over the pitch and it was almost impossible to find a Spaniard not being shadowed by an orange jersey.
Two of the biggest talking points of the World Cup combined in perfect symmetry in the 33rd minute after Iker Casillas had thrown the ball out of play so Puyol could receive attention.
Holland immediately looked to give the ball back and Mathijsen's long ball back to Casillas looked harmless until the ball took a vicious bounce off the hard pitch and almost lobbed the 'keeper, only for the Real Madrid stopper to push the ball wide with his fingertips. Holland knocked the corner straight back to the goalie to make amends.
The Dutch centre half was having something of a nightmarish first half; his every pass was long or misdirected and his touch was wayward at best. His fluffed swipe at Mark van Bommel's misdirected effort at goal summed up the entire first half perfectly.
If anything, the most influential man on the pitch was Howard Webb. The English referee could not be faulted for any of the cards he had dished out, and if anything, he seemed afraid to give out a red card. On three occasions, Dutch players should have received red cards—van Bommel, De Jong, and Wesley Sneijder.
The quality of the game by this stage was quite poor. Holland's game plan seemed to be based entirely upon stopping the Spanish midfield and little else, while Spain's tactics were simply to give it to their midfield, making both teams very one dimensional.
The game needed a goal badly.
And Holland almost obliged. Sneijder's long deep free kick from the halfway line was met by Jonny Heitinga at the far post and his crossed header was cleared by Puyol. The ball fell kindly to Robben, who turned inside and unleashed a fierce drive at the near post, but Casillas read it easily and pushed the effort around the post.
It was the closest we were to come to excitement in the first half, and it was in injury time. The way the game was going was perfect for the Dutch and if any team were going to make changes, it would have to be the Spanish.
Not a first half to remember.
As a spectacle, the cynicism on show by Holland ruined the first half completely.
Webb would need to be stronger in the second period if the game was going to improve...and if it weren't for the fouls, there would be nothing to write about. This was most definitely the worst final since 1990 and a contender for the worst of all time.
What is Sergi Busquets' role in the team? How can he be better than Cesc Fabregas?
Second Half and More of the Same as Webb Becomes a World Record Holder:
The second half kicked off and almost immediately, Spain won a corner. Xavi's cross was met by Puyol but his header was well off target; Capdevila missed the ball completely and fluffed his team's chance to go ahead.
At the other end, a carbon copy of Robben's first-half chance was again easily saved by Casillas. Spain marched down to the other end of the pitch and Giovani van Bronckhurst picked up yellow card number four for Holland.
Xavi's poor effort curled harmlessly wide of the near post. Minutes later, Jonny Heitinga picked up yellow card number six for yet another cynical challenge but curiously, Howard Webb did not award a free kick. He had deemed Spain as having the advantage and Xabi Alonso should not have put the ball out of play.
The English referee was not having a night to remember but in fairness to him, refereeing this game would test anyone to their limits.
If anything, the stop-start nature of the game continued to suit Bert van Maarwijk's men perfectly. One must wonder what Johan Cruyff was making of the game. Having said he would not cross the road to watch Brazil, he would surely be appalled by the team representing his country.
In an effort to change things around, Del Bosque was the first manager to blink. But instead of the expected introduction of Fernando Torres or Cesc Fabregas, we were treated to a like for like change as Navas came on for the ineffectual Pedro.
Seconds later and a superb Wesley Sneijder ball picked out Arjen Robben as the winger bore down on goal. Casillas came out to meet him; he stayed as big as he could in this crucial game of chicken, psyching out his old teammate as he made the save to keep his country on level terms.
At the far end, David Villa really should have put Spain ahead after a dreadful mistake by Dirk Kuyt in the six yard box when he completely missed Navas' daisycutter cross. For once, the Barcelona man was human as nerves and good goalkeeping denied him.
The game was beginning to stretch as both teams tired. Van Maarwijk, sensing this, took out the workaholic Kuyt for the Eljero Elia.
Iniesta was then caught on the edge of the box by Heitinga as he mistimed his tackle completely; he could have received a second yellow card for the clumsy challenge as David Villa fired high and wide.
With just 15 minutes to go, the World Cup final was in real danger of becoming the worst game of the entire tournament. There was no flow as the game became littered with cynical challenge after cynical challenge and from here, it seemed that Holland were playing for penalties.
Spain missed a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 77th minute when Sergio Ramos met Iniesta's corner in an exact replica of Carles Puyol's effort from the semifinal. This time the goal was safe though, as Ramos' effort flew over the bar.
Van Bommel should then have seen red as his late stamp on Iniesta was missed by Webb. The Spaniard was so incensed that he challenged the Dutchman, who threw himself to the ground in a theatrical manner. The end result was Webb calling Iniesta over for a ticking off.
The weakness of Webb's decision-making was having a dramatic effect on the match, as his unwillingness to come down hard on bad challenges set a precedent that the Dutch players were only too happy to stamp all over.
John Heitinga's yellow card was the seventh of this match, breaking the record for a World Cup final. Webb moved ahead of Brazilian referee Romuald Arppi Filho, who showed six cards in the 1986 final.
For all of Holland's physical approach, Arjen Robben deserves great credit for not going down under pressure from Puyol as he, once again, raced through on goal. One must wonder at what Webb would have done? Casillas was the hero for a second time as he saved at the Dutchman's feet again.
However, Robben did pick up a yellow card for chasing Webb almost halfway down the pitch when questioning his decision not to call a foul.
With extra time approaching, Cesc Fabregas was introduced to the fray as Xabi Alonso made his way off the pitch.
His Arsenal teammate almost made the substitution a cameo when he was put through into a one-on-one with Casillas, only for the linesman to flag offside.
Unfortunately, the game moved into extra time...
The First Seven Minutes of Extra Time Was Better Than the Previous 90...
In short, the game was a shamble—nowhere near the showpiece we all wanted. In a match that is expected to inspire the next generation of footballers, this game, given the two nations on show, was an embarrassment.
Spain could have had a penalty in the second minute of extra time after Heitinga played Xavi instead of the ball. The Dutchman threw his leg in front of Xavi as he tried to kick the ball. It was a real 50/50 decision for the referee and he could have decided the match then and there.
The atmosphere in the incredible Soccer City stadium, holding 90,000, was so dead that even the tannoy could be heard above cheers.
As Spain pushed on, a fresh Cesc Fabregas was picked out by a laser-like Iniesta pass and he was through on Stekelenburg. The Dutch 'keeper made a fantastic save to deny the Arsenal midfielder and almost instantly, the Dutch broke forward. Mathijsen headed over when he really should have scored from Sneijder's corner.
Extra time was only seven minutes old and it was already more enjoyable than the preceding 90.
Andreas Iniesta, Spain's other goalscorer in this World Cup, should have either scored or put David Villa through. Instead, he did both and neither, as the ball trickled wide with the striker screaming at his new teammate.
Two minutes later and Jesus Navas had the entire stadium standing up as his deflected shot tore into the side netting. Spain were looking the fitter team after all of Holland's chasing in normal time. Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas' influence on the game was growing as Spain looked to be the more likely team to score.
De Jong and van Bommel were dead on their feet as the fresh legs of Fabregas carried him through the entire midfield, but his shot was just wide of the post. If the Arsenal man has anything that Xavi and Iniesta do not possess, it is a shot from outside the box, and at this stage of the game, he looked the most likely player to score.
As the second period in extra time started, Vicente Del Bosque made a curious last throw of the dice when he took David Villa off for Fernando Torres.
The Liverpool man got his chance to have the final say in his disappointing tournament.
The inevitable happened in the 18th minute of extra time as Jonny Heitinga finally saw red. Iniesta was just too quick for the Everton man and he pulled the Spaniard back on the edge of the box. The card was a long time coming and was thoroughly deserved.
Two minutes later, van der Wiel saw yellow as Holland picked up their eighth of a disgraceful game, for yet another foul on Iniesta.
Holland's best chance would be a set piece, and Wesley Sneijder nearly obliged as his deflected free kick went past Casillas' post.
Spain built right from the back and cut Holland to pieces. The ball eventually ended up at the boot of Cesc Fabregas, who put Andreas Iniesta through with only Stekelenberg to beat, and the Barcelona man did not disappoint. 1-0 Spain!
Holland completely lost their heads and immediately surrounded the linesman, screaming abuse at him as they called the goal offside, but Howard Webb came to his rescue and awarded Matjisen another Dutch yellow card. Surely FIFA would have to come down hard upon the Dutch football federation?
Iniesta also received a yellow card for taking off his jersey.
As Holland threw everything forward, Fernando Torres broke clear only to pull his hamstring...a prophetic end to his World Cup.
It was the last incident in a match that shamed the game.
Spain, Deserved Winners Over Disgraceful Dutch
Spain was a deserved winner; over the 120 minutes, they were the only team who tried to play. Holland must go back to the drawing board and hopefully return to their old ways.
They deserved nothing from this game; their histrionics, gamesmanship, cynical tackling, and negative tactics were a black mark for the game.
To see a team who played the game in the manner it should be is good for the game.
The final was a perfect example of the entire tournament as a whole.
There was terrible refereeing that dictated the way the game was played. It would have been a huge blow to the game if Holland had won, as people try to emulate champions—football would have moved back decades if the Dutch had won.
Sport is defined by its champions and Spain played in a positive way. Holland could have played tonight, but they were overawed by a manager who believes in tactics over players. How can a manager with players like Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Elia, and Robin van Persie send a team out to assault an opponent?
It was a bad day for football, but thankfully the right team won.