"Can you keep on winning 1-0?" was the question posed by match commentator Martin Tyler Sunday during the World Cup final.
Spain answered that query with a resounding "Si!" after defeating the Netherlands to win sport's biggest prize. La Roja won all four of its games in the knockout round, 1-0, scoring just eight goals in the tournament while conceding only two, further proof that defense wins championships.
But this had to be the most explosive 1-0 game ever. Spain had multiple chances in the first half as striker David Villa, the author of five World Cup tallies, repeatedly found space and opportunity but couldn't convert. The Spaniards dominated play early. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas biggest challenge was boredom. "It's a long time between pieces of work," observed Tyler of the often idle Spanish netminder.
Late in the half, the Dutch nearly moved in front. Joris Mathijsen had a great chance in the 37th minute, unmarked inside the area but mis-kicked a volley out of bounds. Arjen Robben nearly scored in stoppage time, but Casillas snapped to attention and made a strong save.
The Netherlands was far more positive on the ball in the second half. Robben who had been enjoying a golden run in 2010 (his strike at Manchester United in the Champions League is already the stuff of legend) inexplicably came up short twice on two breakaways. He was in all alone on the keeper in the 62nd minute, and a step ahead of the defenders after a great pass from Wesley Sneijder in the 83rd but was denied both times by Casillas who will have schools named after him back in his hometown of Madrid for those two historic saves.
Again, this match could have easily turned out 4-3, one way or the other. Villa missed on the doorstep in the 70th minute. In the 77th, Sergio Ramos had a clear header from point blank range off a corner kick, sail over the bar. In the 95th, Cesc Fabregas, a late substitution was stopped on another breakaway. Four minutes later, Andres Iniesta was one-on-one with Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg. The game remained scoreless. "Another nearly, nearly moment for Spain," Tyler said.
Tyler was at his understated best describing the peripatetic Dirk Kuyt as "The effervescent number 7." And he beautifully summed up the Oscar Madison/Felix Unger contrast of the two head coaches saying Spain's Vicente Del Bosque had a "perpetually crumpled look," while Holland's Bert van Marwijk was a "smooth operator, looking rather like a late night chat show host." Van Marwijk was resplendent in a gray suit which looked like it had just been cut at Savile Row, accented with a black scarf to address the South African winter chill. Not too many guys could pull off that look without appearing to be trying too hard. But Bert made it work.
Meanwhile, yellow cards were being handed out like false start penalties in a Detroit Lions game. English referee Howard Webb went into the book 14 times (the previous record for a World Cup final was 6). The Dutch were understandably physical in their approach trying to slow down the Spanish attack and it would cost them in the end. John Heitinga was sent off in the 109th minute after drawing a second yellow.
The Netherlands hoped to hold on for the next 11 minutes and have the match decided by penalty kicks. But Spain finally broke through in the 116th minute. Fabregas, who saw limited action during the tournament as he recovers from a leg injury, was a brilliant playmaker in extra time. He set up Iniesta who drove a volley off the hand of Stekelenburg into the back of the net.
There is an old song proclaiming "One is the loneliest number." But in this case, one brought an entire nation together, eliciting cries of rapture from Malaga to Barcelona. It turned out to be a simple equation:
1-0 x 4 = Spain's first World Cup championship.
Before arriving in Wisconsin, Mark was a TV sports director at stations in Greensboro, the Quad Cities and Fort Smith, Arkansas. He got his first job at the ABC affiliate in Syracuse during his junior year at Syracuse University where he majored in TV and Radio at the Newhouse School.
Mark is an avid fan of all sports. He covered the Packers at Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans and has also reported on the Final Four, the Daytona 500, the Rose Bowl, the NLCS and the PGA and U.S. Open golf championships. He covered the GMO for 20 years. Mark played soccer in high school and is a passionate supporter of "The Beautiful Game." One of his greatest experiences was attending a UEFA Champions League game hosted by Real Madrid at Bernabeu Stadium.
Mark was born in Philadelphia but has happily made the transition from cheese steaks to cheese heads and is thrilled to now call Wisconsin home. He is currently president of Concannon Communications LLC and working on projects involving, writing, producing, voice-overs and public relations.