Spain defeats the Netherlands to win the 2010 World Cup.
Spain takes its final gamble, and it's a fascinating one. Leading goal scorer David Villa is removed from the match and coming on in his place is Fernando Torres, the player who scored the winning goal when Spain defeated Germany. 1-0, to win Euro 2008.
But the question is this: If the game goes to penalty kicks, will Villa not be sorely missed?
But first, this: A red card for John Heitinga, the Dutch defender who has committed one foul too many in referee Howard Webb's eyes. It was a second yellow, followed by a red. The foul was on Andres Iniesta, the umpteenth he has suffered in this match.
The free kick is just at the edge of the penalty area and Xavi is over the ball. Sadly, his shot is over the bar. The stalemate continues.
Then comes a yellow card for Dutch defender Gregory Van der Weil, with Iniesta again the victim of the foul. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg punches away Xavi's attempt this time.
Cesc Fabregas fouls Eljero Elia in a dangerous position on the field and now the Dutch have a scoring chance. Wesley Sneijder's shot comes off the shoulder of a player in the defensive wall and another chance is lost.
Then it comes: Goal!!!!!
Iniesta smashes the ball into the net after receiving a pass from Cesc Fabregas. The Dutch protest in vain for offside, but Iniesta was clearly onside.
Spain has the lead and the World Cup is minutes away from having a champion.
The last time a World Cup final ended scoreless was in 1994, when Brazil and Italy played to a stalemate at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena before the South Americans took the trophy on penalty kicks, 3-2.
With any luck, it will not come to that on an increasingly cold night in Johannesburg, but the signs have not been good. These two teams have pretty much canceled each other out.
Spain comes close to scoring, though, when Andres Iniesta sends a through ball to Cesc Fabregas, but Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg is alert to the danger and came out to block the shot.
At the other end, Holland's Joris Mathijsen comes close with a header off a corner kick, but the ball sails over the crossbar.
Time and 2010 World Cup are ticking away and we still have no winner.
Iniesta worms his way into the Dutch penalty area but before he can pull the trigger, Giovanni van Bronckhorst hustles over and shepherds the ball to safety.
The Dutch make another change, with Nigel de Jong coming off and Rafael van der Vaart coming into the game.
There is time left for a Jesus Navas shot to be deflected into the side netting and for a David Villa shot to flash wide right and for Van Bronckhorst to be taken out and replaced by Edson Braafheid.
Then, the first half of extra time is gone. We are 15 minutes away from penalty kicks, barring a miracle.
Up in the royal suite, Spain's Queen Sofia does not look amused.
Arjen Robben set off on an incredible run for the Netherlands, eluded a desperate challenge by Spain's Carles Puyol and somehow, some way, the ball still ended up in the hands of goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
There are only five minutes left in regulation, and any mistake now could be disastrous. Of course, for the fans, another 30 minutes of this could be considered equally depressing.
Spain is rolling the dice again and sending playmaking midfielder Cesc Fabregas on in place of Xabi Alonso. It means more creativity but less fire power. A gamble, in other words.
Now, Spain is finely playing its possession game, holding onto the ball and daring the Netherlands to take it away. It is unlikely to produce a goal in the short time left, and the score is still tied at 0-0 when regulation ends and we go to three minutes of injury time.
That expires, too, and now the World Cup final goes to extra time, another 30 minutes followed by penalty kicks, if necessary.
Was it a terrible miss by Arjen Robben for the Netherlands or an extremely fortunate save by Iker Casillas for Spain? Take your pick.
Robben gets in alone and one-on-one against the Spanish goalkeeper, tries to steer a shot past him from close range and somehow the ball clips Casillas' foot and is deflected wide of the net. A very close call for Spain.
Joan Capdevila is the eighth and latest player to be yellow carded, this time for taking down Robin van Persie. Referee Howard Webb, who has not shown the red card at all in the three World Cup games he has worked, might well be sending someone to an early shower before this farce of a game is over.
Spain is showing signs of frustration. It is being closed down quickly by the Dutch and cannot get its passing game into rhythm.
Given a scoring chance when defender John Heitinga makes a mess of clearing a cross from the right, David Villa miss kicks the ball and sees the shot blocked and cleared.
The Dutch make a substitution, sending the speedy Eljero Elia on for -- and this is surprising -- Dirk Kuyt in the 70th minute.
Heitinga upends Iniesta after the Spanish player has completed a pass and a free kick results. This is well within Xavi's range, but Villa takes it and sends the ball into the cheap seats -- not that there are any for a World Cup final. There are 84,490 in the house, a stadium announcement advises.
Only 15 minutes left now, so one goal just might settle this game.
Apparently, the players were not that embarrassed about their awful first-half performance and have decided to come out for the second 45 minutes.
The hope is that the respective coaches, Bert van Marwijk for the Netherlands and Vicente del Bosque for Spain, have reminded the players why they are here and why 700 million people are watching around the globe, assuming 350 million of them have not switched to golf or fishing or something equally unexciting.
The Dutch fans, undeterred by the cold weather or the even colder game, are consuming copious amounts of beer in the hope that if things really go south, they will at least have had something to remember.
Spain earns a corner kick, Carles Puyol climbs to an incredible height to reach it with his head, the ball glances off and Joan Capdevila is a half-second too late at the far post to redirect the ball in. Close call for the Dutch.
Gregory van der Wiel somehow gets clear behind the Spanish defense and sends a half-cross, half-shot across the face of Spain's net. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas lets it go by. A not-so-close call for the Spanish.
Arjen Robben is being given a little too much freedom by the Spanish midfielders and defenders and has managed to get another shot off that Casillas smothers at the right post. Could a goal be coming soon?
Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the Dutch captain playing in his final game before retiring, has just been yellow carded by referee Howard Webb for a foul on Sergio Ramos. That makes it six yellow cards inside the first hour. The free kick by Xavi sails wide.
David Villa, Spain's leading goal scorer with five goals, has been fouled by John Heitinga on the sideline. The yellow card comes out again. This is really becoming a poor advertisement for the game.
Andres Iniesta, not a dirty player, goes for the ball and his boot comes down on Wesley Sneijder's knee. The Dutch fail to capitalize on the free kick.
One hour has gone by. No goals yet. Pedro is taken out by Spain and replaced by winger Jesus Navas.
A spectacular aerial collision between defender Carles Puyol and goalkeeper and teammate Iker Casillas leaves both unharmed. Good photo opportunity, though.
The Dutch fans are trying to inject something into their team with cries of "Holland, Holland," but it's not having much effect. With halftime approaching, this has been a poor final so far.
A typical example takes place. Arjen Robben wins a corner kick off Sergio Busquets and plays the ball out to Mark van Bommel. Van Bommel scuffs his shot and the ball rolls to Joris Mathijsen, who does the same thing. Pathetic, really. Is this the best Holland has to offer?
Van Bommel fouls Xavi 30 yards from the Dutch net. Xavi takes the free kick, but the Dutch defense clears.
A collision at midfield between Holland's Wesley Sneijder and Spain's Sergio Busquets leaves both players writhing on the ground. Clumsy play. Both are OK. Xabi Alonso's free kick flies wide of the left post.
There are two minutes of added time. Enough for Robben to get off a cracking left-foot shot from the right and for Casillas to make the save at the near post. That's a bit better.
Halftime arrives. Hopefully in the second half we'll see a World Cup final. In the first 45 minutes, we've seen a Major League Soccer game.
Yes, it's been that bad.
With two yellow cards in the first 15 minutes, referee Howard Webb has shown he will not ignore any rough play. That's a good thing. These teams are too talented to engage in a physical encounter.
A surging run by Arjen Robben down the right wing has earned the Dutch a corner kick, but it comes to nothing.
The teams are rapidly losing respect, at least here, with their approach. Mark van Bommel has just taken Andres Iniesta's legs out from beneath him and has earned a yellow card.
Next, Sergio Ramos upends Holland's Dirk Kuyt and also is booked. This was supposed to be about soccer, not about fouling. Pretty disappointing stuff.
It's getting worse. Dutch defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong has just planted his boot squarely in Xabi Alonso's chest. It could easily have been a red card, but Webb issues only a yellow.
That's five yellow cards in the first 30 minutes. The teams should be ashamed of themselves, especially the Dutch.
The anthems have been played. The traditional booing of Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, FIFA's president, has been attended to and the match is under way.
The Dutch kickoff, and for the next 45 minutes, hold onto your hats.
Robin van Persie has committed the first foul, catching the ankle or shin of Andres Iniesta, Spain's danger man, but the free kick came to naught.
The Dutch are condensing the field, pushing players up toward the halfway line and thereby limiting the space in which Spain can move the ball around.
Another Spanish player crumples to the ground; this time its defender Sergio Ramos. Xavi swings in a perfect free kick, the header comes in from Ramos and Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg does well to punch it away. That was close.
The Netherlands takes its first crack at goal, Dirk Kuyt hitting a swerving shot that goalkeeper Iker Casillas safely gathers.
John Heitinga has just saved the Netherlands with a clearance kick off a shot by Ramos. The buildup move by Spain involved Pedro, David Villa and Iniesta, and Ramos' shot from within the penalty area was heading for the net, it appeared, before Heitinga deflected it away.
These are a few nervous moments for the Dutch defense as the Spanish show an ability to penetrate the back line.
Van Persie, who is being a bit reckless in his challenges, has just been yellow-carded by referee Howard Webb for a foul on Joan Capdevila.
Now Carles Puyol has a yellow for a foul on Arjen Robben.
Fifteen minutes and counting. No score yet. Signs, though, that this game will have its share of goals.
If the predominant color in Soccer City is anything to go by, the Dutch are going to win this thing fairly handily. The entire place seems to be a sea of orange.
The Dutch fans are louder than their Spanish counterparts, too, although with the throb of the African music and the blare of the vuvuzelas, it's difficult to be sure.
The warm-ups are over and the next time everyone sees the players it will be game time.
The traditional "herding of the photographers" is taking place now as the hundreds of cameramen, encircled by ropes, are guided slowly into position.
Fabio Cannavaro, Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning defender and captain, has just carried the World Cup trophy out onto the field and placed it on a pedestal on the center line.
The FIFA anthem is playing and Cannavaro has taken the trophy out onto the field and is holding it aloft for fans to see. Putting it back on the pedestal, he leans to kiss it, then departs,
The 2006 winner has left. The winners of 2010 are making their way from the locker room. Whether they will be wearing Dutch orange or Spanish red and blue, the next two hours will tell.
Suddenly, an unwelcome interruption. A fan has raced out onto the field from one corner and made a beeline for the trophy. Seven security officials wrestle him to the ground and carry him off before he can get to it.
Security is perfect, FIFA claims. Obviously, it is not.
Only a matter of minutes to go now before the start of the game that has grabbed the soccer world's attention like few others before it. This promises to be a really special World Cup final.
The Dutch and Spanish players are going through their warm-up drills, the coaches are nervously watching from the sideline, and the buzz in the crowd is tremendous.
The introduction of the Dutch players is being met by a huge roar from the Dutch fans as each player's name is read.
The same thing happened when the Spanish were introduced.
Meanwhile, in Amsterdam authorities have pretty much closed the city because it is overflowing with fans that have made their way there in anticipation of a Dutch victory.
Calling the city "full," Dutch railways are telling travelers to turn back. "At the request of the city, we're calling around on all stations on lines to Amsterdam to not go there," a railways spokesman said. "Amsterdam is full."
The teams are about to come out for their warm-ups, but the starting lineups have been revealed, and neither coach has produced any surprises.
Here is the Dutch lineup:
Maarten Stekelenburg; Gregory van der Wiel, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni van Bronckhorst; Nigel de Jong, Mark van Bommel, Wesley Sneijder; Arjen Robben; Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie.
And here is the Spanish starting 11:
Iker Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez and David Villa.
If all goes well, this match could be a classic.
The 2010 World Cup has just experienced one of its greatest moments.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela made an appearance, greeting the tens of thousands in attendance.
Mandela, 91, was driven out onto the Soccer City stadium field in a golf cart, accompanied by a family member and flanked by at least a half-dozen security personnel.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner was wearing a heavy coat and a black Russian-style hat. He waved to the fans as he circled the stadium and then made his exit after being greeted and applauded by Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, the president of FIFA, world soccer's governing body; Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, president of the Confederation of African Football; and Jerome Valcke, FIFA's secretary general.
Mandela was greeted with tremendous applause, with many of the fans standing out of respect for the African leader and statesman.
The stadium lights have been turned down for the start of the opening ceremony. Shakira is the headline act. Hmm, Shakira with the lights off. Say no more. Say no more.
OK, that was a bit Monty Python-ish. Truth is, the closing ceremony has been pretty darn good. Excellent, in fact. The giant bug from the opening ceremony, oh, about a quarter-century ago, didn't show up, but there were plenty of lights and fireworks and dancers and musicians. Did I mention Shakira?
The best bit was the white elephants--no doubt a reference to what will become of these magnificent stadia once the World Cup departs.
Turns out there were 13 of them in all. Perhaps it's not an unlucky number in Africa.
Meanwhile, the starting lineups will shortly be landing on my desk up here in the stadium roof. I'm not expecting any surprises. It will be the Dutch and the Spanish who will be playing.
There's quite a lot at stake here. Plates of paella will by flying through the air at Spanish restaurants if Coach Vicente del Bosque's team fails to bring home the trophy.
Who knows what will be flying in Holland it the Dutch come home empty-handed.
Nice to see that FIFA has invited some real players to watch the final, as opposed to all the politicians here to preen in the secondary spotlight.
Among those who are supposed to be watching Sunday's game are three former World Cup-winning captains --Germany's Lothar Matthaeus from 1990, France's Marcel Desailly from 1998, and Italy's Fabio Cannavaro from 2006.
Also on hand are said to be George Weah of Liberia, the FIFA world player of the year in 1995, former Cameroon great Roger Milla, and Lucas Radebe, captain of South Africa's team at the 1998 and 2002 World Cup tournaments.
Meanwhile, with all the pregame festivities proceeding apace, Luis Aragones, the coach who led Spain to its Euro 2008 championship before giving way to Vicente del Bosque, has given his opinion on the match to Al Jazeera.
"Whoever owns midfield owns the game," he said. "The midfield is where [the Netherlands] commands its game. But Spain has more players in midfield that can dominate than the Netherlands has. If Spain commands possession and plays at a high tempo, then it's very possible they are going to beat the Netherlands."
So, now you know.
Well, here we are at Soccer City in Johannesburg, where Africa's first World Cup is only a few hours away from becoming history.
The Netherlands will be playing Spain for the title -- something neither country has ever won -- and, to be honest, the game is a real tossup. Both teams are more than capable of winning, so it basically depends on which one makes the plays.
Referee Howard Webb from England has his whistle polished and ready, which befits a former policeman, and the hope is that it will be a clean, well-played game without Webb having to intervene. "The perfect game for me would be one where nobody is speaking about the officials," he said.
Soccer City is sold out and the stadium is crawling with royalty and politicos. Among those trying to keep their crowns from knocking into each other are King Mswati III of Swaziland and Spain's Queen Sofia.
The game is being televised in every country in the world, according to FIFA's TV chief, Niclas Ericson, and the global audience will top the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games by 100 million if it totals 700 million, as expected.
"At least we've got two teams that like to play," said former U.S. international John Harkes, who now dabbles in television himself. "It could have been Paraguay-Japan."