Spain Wins World Cup Over Netherlands, 1-0

Thirty-two teams traveled to South Africa for the soccer's World Cup. Spain came out on top Sunday in dramatic fashion. NPR's Mike Pesca fills in guest host Lynn Neary on how the drama between Spain and the Netherlands played out. Lynn also talks with NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Madrid, Spain ,and Rob Gifford in Amsterdam.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. MARTIN TYLER (ABC World Cup Announcer): Now it drops to Fabregas. He looks for Iniesta who's onside.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

Mr. TYLER: Spain score.

NEARY: And that's the sound that sent a nation into ecstasy, Spain winning the World Cup today. It was the country's first ever World Cup victory.

NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now to talk about the game.

Welcome, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

NEARY: What a game that was. Tell us about those final minutes.

PESCA: Yeah, that clip makes it sound like a good game, but it was not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: It was the first half was a dog's breakfast. It was horrible, horrible soccer, and fouls were flying left and right. Coming into the game, Spain was supposed to be this excellent defensive team who also was able to channel their offense. Maybe the Netherlands could give them a game because the Netherlands hadn't lost the whole tournament. And, in fact, the consolation game between Germany and Uruguay yesterday was an excellent game. So people were primed for this great example of the beautiful game, and it was the ugly, ugly game, and it continued to be ugly. And this game set a record for the most yellow cards given out. The last record was six. I lost count at 11, and players were being sent off.

And it really did look like the game was going to go to penalties, which is an unfortunate byproduct of a game, soccer, where scoring comes very infrequently. But there you heard Andres Iniesta in the 116th minute won the game for the best team in the world.

I can't definitively say that Spain was the best team on this day, but they were at least the Netherlands' equal, and there is some justice in the fact that Spain is now the champion, the World Cup champion.

NEARY: Well, how unusual was it for a World Cup final to go that long?

PESCA: Yes, World Cup finals often go to shootouts, what we call shootouts, what they call penalties, and in fact, a scoreless first half, that's also very common too.

And what happens, even if we get great teams, some of us American sports fans know it from watching the Super Bowl. Two great teams will come out, and the nerves will be such that, say, a quarterback in the Super Bowl will begin sailing his balls and being inaccurate.

And that kind of happened in this game. The Spanish team, who are so good at possession and so good at controlling the ball, just mishit so many balls. But finally, after almost two hours of soccer, we got some justice in an actual goal.

NEARY: Yeah. Well, I mean, maybe it wasn't Spain's best game, but, you know, what did the Dutch do wrong? What did they need to do that they didn't do?

PESCA: The Dutch were the underdog, and they did play if you want to put the best gloss on it, they did play scrappy soccer. But they had opportunities. And their great forward Arjen Robben was robbed by excellent goaltending.

As bad as the Spanish were, let us give credit to their great goaltender, Casillas, who was not named man of the match because soccer fans sort of have a propensity not to do that with the goalie, but he kept them in the game.

And so the Dutch tried as best they can, hard luck for them. They've been in three World Cup finals, and they've lost all three. So it's the agony and the ecstasy for the Dutch.

NEARY: We're going to go overseas now, Mike. So thanks so much for joining us.

PESCA: You're welcome.

NEARY: NPR's Mike Pesca. And we have NPR reporters in the winning and losing countries. But first, we're going to turn to the winners and Sylvia Poggioli. She joined a crowd watching in Madrid's Plaza Cibeles.

Sylvia, what's it like there now?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Well, it was quite a crowd. I mean, they were estimating it something like 250,000. I can't tell you. It was just a sea of people. And we they were piling up there and waiting and ready and, you know, celebrating even before the game started, hours before under scorching heat.

It's total pandemonium here. It's absolutely incredible. It's a party like I've never seen anything like this. And it's been really something because, you know, the Spaniards were already celebrating just simply the fact that they got into the quarterfinals.

Now with this goal at the last minute, it's - of course, it's just incredible. It's happiness, and it's going to go on all night.

NEARY: Yeah, well, this is Spain's first World Cup victory, right? I mean, they've never even been to a final before, as you said. So this must really mean a lot to people there.

POGGIOLI: It means an enormous amount. Of course, Spain did come in well as, you know, it was European champion. It had you know, it was really also considered one of the favorites coming in.

But, you know, they were always considered sort of the underachievers. They've never made it. And it really has boosted the morale in this country tremendously because Spain is going through a horrendous economic crisis. And this is bound to really pull everybody's spirits up for - at least for a while.

NEARY: Well, Mike Pesca was just saying that maybe Spain didn't play its best game today, but it sounds like people there aren't really going to care about that too much now that they've won, huh?

POGGIOLI: Well, not only that, it's been really a turning point in another way. There's never been such a show of flags, Spanish flags, ever before. The flag here was always seen as a little bit of a memory in - of the Civil War on the one hand, or it was looked upon badly in other parts of the country that are seeking independence.

But this is it's turned out to be a unifying element. Even in Barcelona, which is the capital of Catalonia, which is seeking independence, and in the Basque lands, where even more aggressive separatist movement exists, there have been Spanish flags have been flying. So at least for this one time, La Roja, the red, the red of the flag, has seems to be unifying all the people who live in Spain.

NEARY: That's Sylvia Poggioli in Madrid.

Sylvia, thanks so much for joining us, and have a good time there.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Lynn. I will.

NEARY: Okay. And we'll turn now to the home of the losing side.

NPR's Rob Gifford is in a downtrodden sea of Netherlands orange in downtown Amsterdam.

Rob, how are the Dutch holding up there?

ROB GIFFORD: Oh, yeah, they are feeling so downtrodden, absolutely. It's all a sea of orange here, compared to the red of Madrid in Barcelona. And as you just were hearing, this is the third time that the Dutch have lost in a World Cup final, twice in the 1970s.

They thought that this was their year. They'd come all the way through not with such an attractive team as the 1970s, but a very effective soccer team, and they really thought this was their year.

People drifting away now. I'm right in the heart of Amsterdam, and there were huge crowds here watching on screens and in bars, and just real disappointment that it hasn't turned out to be.

NEARY: I can't help noticing how much more quiet it is there than...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GIFFORD: Yeah, it is. It is. It's just - oh, you wouldn't believe the silence when the final goal went in. It was like about five minutes from the end, and the whole square I was standing just went absolutely silent.

The Dutch had their chances. They could have settled it during before the extra time, the overtime, but they didn't. And, you know, I think a lot of people are kicking themselves, feeling that the team didn't play quite as well as they could. But I spoke to some people here who said, you know, in the end, the best team did win.

The Spain - the Spanish side were very, very good indeed. And I think there's no hard feelings. But, of course, the Dutch would've loved to have won their first World Cup final. But there's no hard feelings, because I think the Spanish - in the end, many people felt they were the best team on the night.

NEARY: Well, Rob Gifford, thanks so much for telling us how it is there in Amsterdam tonight. And I told Sylvia to enjoy herself, and you try and enjoy yourself too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Thanks very much.

GIFFORD: (Unintelligible) be a few people drowning their sorrows here tonight.

NEARY: Okay.

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