Marcello Lippi’s Italy went to South Africa as defending champions, write Mark Siglioccolo and Aman Sehdev, but endured a miserable and brief campaign.
Criminally underused, Fabio Quagliarella summed up Italy's tournament by proving to be their best performer in a 45-minute cameo. Had he been unleashed from the start rather than the lacklustre Alberto Gilardino, things may well have gone differently as the Neapolitan single-handedly dragged his side back into the Slovakia match.
His left footed volley was cleared off the line before a neat one-two with Vincenzo Iaquinta led to Di Natale's opener. A Totti-esque lob from outside the area bamboozled Jan Mucha in goal but it was too late and Quagliarella's tears at full-time were genuine and heartbreaking to watch.
One of the most decorated managers in world football, with five Scudetti and one Champions League, Lippi is best known for guiding the Azzurri to a fourth World Cup triumph in 2006. A Coach known for generating unity and cohesion in his squads, the Viareggio native cultivated a club-like atmosphere in Italy's 2006 success. Was re-appointed in 2008 to succeed Roberto Donadoni. Group stage elimination at the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup ultimately proved a failure in his second stint on the Azzurri bench. Now at the helm of Guangzhou Evergrande, with two trophy laden seasons in China.
Spain continued their march to football domination with an inaugural World Cup triumph, adding the game's ultimate prize to the European Championship two years previously.
Andres Iniesta settled a physical final with Holland four minutes from the end of extra time.
History was made with the first ever World Cup on African soil. The moment South Africa’s Siphiwe Tshabalala struck an unstoppable effort to score the first goal of the tournament the African faithful provided a carnival atmosphere, with the Vuvuzela making its loud and distracting debut.
Ghana made Africa believe with a run to the quarter-finals. However, Asamoah Gyan agonizingly missed a spot-kick in the last minute of extra time. Uruguay came through on a shootout.
Football’s superpowers disappointed. France, finalists four years ago finished bottom of the group, their campaign marred by infighting.
A Diego Maradona-coached Argentina romped through to the quarter-finals. However, a 4-0 humbling defeat to Germany meant a team brimming with talent failed to advance to the semis again.
Calls for goal-line technology intensified after Frank Lampard’s effort was wrongly disallowed in the quarter-final defeat to Germany. But, that wrongdoing masked England’s abysmal tournament, compounded with the failure of an underperforming Wayne Rooney.
If South Africa thought they had a trick up their sleeve with the Jubulani, they didn't count on Diego Forlan. Having just turned 31, many thought that his best days were over. Yet his stellar displays led Uruguay to a deserved fourth placed finish and earned him the Golden Ball for Player of the Tournament. Although he was not top-scorer outright - as he netted five along with Thomas Mueller, David Villa and Wesley Sneijder, Forlan's contribution was unexpected, and spectacular. His opening goal stunned Bafana Bafana as his shot from deep swerved like a wayward firework into the net.
In the opening game of the tournament Siphiwe Tshabalala tore the roof off Soccer City. A sublime team move saw Bafana Bafana break at pace and stun Mexico with a sensational goal. Fine combination play led to a brilliant Kagisho Dikgacoi through ball smashed in by the thunderous left foot of Tshabalala. From the left of the box he arrowed the ball into the top right hand corner with such pace 'keeper Oscar Perez had no chance. The hosts had clearly practiced with the Jubulani and the trajectory of the strike gave us a first glimpse of its devastation.
The battle to put a new name on the World Cup produced a tense, tactical and sometimes tetchy tussle which ultimately, and deservedly, went the way of Spain, writes Giancarlo Rinaldi.
A single strike ripped up the reputation of Spain as football’s biggest under achievers. Andres Iniesta crowned them champions of the world to go along with their European title. For a nation so used to choking on the big stage, it was time to clear the lungs and sing in full voice.
It was not, by any stretch, a classic final. The two teams taking part carried a reputation for attacking, flowing football but there was little of that on display. Much of the blame for that has to go to a Netherlands side which seemed to be determined to stop their opponents’ intricate short passing by any means possible. Sometimes things got brutal.
A slow tempo start was hardly surprising in a game of such importance. Both sides were understandably aware that they stood on the verge of making history. It inhibited the play and, while it was tactically intriguing, there was little goalmouth action for the neutral to enjoy.
Spain probably had the best early chance with a Sergio Ramos header but the game soon lost its way as the thunderous tackles flew. It was no surprise that Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong were among the offenders – the latter lucky to stay on the pitch – and the yellow cards came at regular intervals.
It was a match which struggled to find any pattern, a fact which probably suited the Oranje most. Indeed, they sneaked into the game towards the close of the opening period and might have stolen the advantage when Arjen Robben fired in a snapshot which Iker Casillas had to look sharp to save.
On the hour mark the same two protagonists produced one of the final’s pivotal moments. Robben was sent clean through on goal by Wesley Sneijder only to be denied by Casillas’ flailing leg. It was hard to escape the feeling that Holland’s clearest chance of glory had come and gone as the game trickled towards extra time.
Dutch netminder Mark Stekelenberg performed heroics of his own to see off Cesc Fabregas in the extra half-hour’s play but la Roja were starting to build a momentum which would not be denied. An almost inevitable red card finally arrived when John Heitinga was judged to have tugged back Iniesta. And that man eventually pounced to thump home a winner with four minutes to go.
The Netherlands were clearly disgruntled about the move which led up to the goal, believing Eljero Elia had been fouled. However, their deliberately combative approach to the match will have earned them little sympathy. They had their chances but were simply not quite sharp enough to take them.
So the party could start for a Spanish team which made 1-0 victories its trademark once the competition reached the knockout stages. There were times when the constant, repetitive, short-passing game became almost infuriating but their patience was always rewarded. They seemed to hypnotise opponents into submission, taunting them with uncontested possession for large swathes of the game.
A World Cup victory was vindication enough for that approach. As Iker Casillas raised the trophy to the South African skies, a lot of the ghosts of past failures had finally been put to rest. The celebrations could start in Madrid, Barcelona and right across the country.
“It is an incredible feeling, I can’t find the words to describe it,” admitted goal hero Iniesta. “When I scored I thought of my family, of everyone. I can’t wait to get back to Spain. This was the crowning moment of years and years of hard work.”
“It was a tough game, but we have a fantastic group of players,” added Coach Vicente Del Bosque. “We could have scored more goals but I am delighted and proud of the whole squad.”
Holland were left with a third failure on the biggest stage. In the end their solid defensive base with sparks of inventive flair from Robben and Sneijder was not quite enough. They won few friends with their attitude in the final, it will take some time to repair the damage done to their reputation for stylish, attacking football.
So, for all the early domination of South American sides it was a European outfit which succeeded Italy. Fabio Cannavaro was in the ground to watch the final and he would surely have appreciated a defensive record which saw the new champions emulate the old ones and concede just a couple of goals in the whole competition. Spain had finally earned the right to join all the other great names to have secured the game’s most prestigious prize.
Spain 1-0 Holland
Spain: Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets, Xabi Alonso (Fabregas 87); Pedro (Navas 60), Xavi, Iniesta; Villa (Torres 106)
Holland: Stekelenburg; van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst (Braafheid 105); de Jong (van der Vaart 99), van Bommel; Kuyt (Elia 71), Sneijder, Robben; van Persie
Ref: Webb (ENG)