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With Lone Moment of Brilliance In Brutal Final, Spain Claims First World Cup

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Spain will remember this result, and forget how it happened. This was not pretty, not fun, and not classic. But, for the first time in Spain's history, La Furia Roja have won a World Cup.

Spain's typical aesthetic brilliance evaporated in the face of rugged Dutch defense, and referee Howard Webb exacerbated a chippy game by handing out 12 yellow cards and whistling 47 fouls. But this was a game played mostly with the prevailing tactics of world soccer, ones that make defense and counterattacking the lifeblood of winning teams.

On this day, Spain did those things better. Their 1-0 triumph, though, is anything but a victory for soccer. 

Iker Casillas turned away an Arjen Robben breakaway that was the Dutch's best chance, and the oft-maligned Spanish defense kept the Oranje out of the box. The one Spanish goal, Andres Iniesta's volley in the second half of extra time, came on a long, slow counterattack capped by deft passing around the box, a spot of the standard Spanish brilliance tempered by the frustration and arrhythmia of the game.

This game as a whole was a defeat for joga bonito, the beautiful game. It was cynically played, as the Brits say, with players diving and whining and clipping more than they sliced and shot and defended. It was not a classic World Cup final, and lacked even the singular memorable moment that was Zinedine Zidane's horrific headbutt from 2006. Observers looking for compelling reasons for Americans to stick with soccer after this game will find only a few.

This World Cup, in sum, boiled down to a struggle between some of soccer's best elements—technical competence and attacking prowess, displayed by Spain, Germany, and Uruguay—and its worst—plodding, foul-based play that seeks to capitalize on shoddy refereeing to slow and disrupt that offense, the modus operani of these Dutch to their dying moments. And this final showed that the latter can and will win out, to the dismay of many. But the best team in this tournament won it, and the best team in the world got its first crown, and the more beautiful squad got its ultimate glory despite getting bogged down in a quicksand of defensive, physical soccer, providing a modicum of justice and solace for the aesthetes in soccer's audience.

Spain and fans of La Furia Roja will enjoy the wake of this game. They may be the only ones.


This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.