Spain started as a favourite and ended as the winner but the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa did not go along expected lines. La Roja themselves contributed to the twists and turns of a dramatic tournament, as they became the first team to win the title after losing the opening match. With both Spain and the Netherlands playing out an undistinguished final, tough, defensive, and risk-averse, the match turned out to be a scrappy affair. English referee Howard Webb adopted a no-nonsense, but not bloody-minded, approach. The final saw a record number of yellow cards (14), nine for the Dutch, and five for the Spaniards. Coming on top of the 15 yellow cards they collected in previous six matches, this did not earn Oranje any new fans in the World Cup. But Spain stuck to its tried and tested methods throughout: dominating possession in the midfield, and waiting patiently for good finishing at the forward line. In the end, Andres Iniesta's right-footer in the 116th minute (second half of extra-time) secured a 1-0 victory. In fact, Spain won its four knock-out matches by an identical margin, quite uncharacteristic for a champion side. With the ball at their feet, the Spaniards seemed more intent on playing among themselves than on sending it toward the goal. But with their captain Iker Casillas, the eventual winner of the Golden Glove award, under the bar, they did not have too much to worry about. Spain conceded just two goals in the entire tournament: a record for a winning team shared with France (1998) and Italy (2006). However, the second successive all-European final, and the eighth overall, was not without its bright moments. Arjen Robben had a couple of good runs only to be denied by Casillas. Likewise, the Dutch goalkeeper, Maarten Stekelenburg, made sure the scores stayed level by keeping David Villa and Sergio Ramos at bay.

This World Cup was not just about football of course. Africa's first World Cup was quite fittingly hosted by South Africa, standing up free and proud after the long dark night of apartheid. Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela was the hero of the closing ceremony and was greeted by vuvuzelas and roars from the fans at Soccer City. FIFA owes a great part of the success of the tournament to the organisational capabilities of this liberated rainbow nation. Unfortunately, despite the natural talent and the foreign coaches, none of the African nations made it to the last four. Ghana, the sole African representative in the quarter finals, was unlucky to be denied by an appalling hand block by Uruguay. But this World Cup might mark the beginning of a new phase in world football — a phase in which African nations will hold a prominent place alongside the Europeans and the South Americans.

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