JOHANNESBURG - Spain stuck to its delicate touch and it eventually paid off as it overcame the brute force of the Netherlands in a 1-0 victory on Sunday that secured the European champions their first World Cup.
Andres Iniesta's extra-time goal was enough for Spain to survive a bad-tempered game that saw the Netherlands mostly keep its attacking flair in check Sunday at Soccer City.
Spain's creative intentions were mostly stifled by strong Dutch resistance and tough challenges as referee Howard Webb handed out nine yellows and one red card to defender John Heitinga.
"We all deserved it, especially after this game today which was so hard," Iniesta said. "To finish off this way makes you so happy, it leaves a great taste."
With the teams facing a penalty shootout in a game of few clear chances, Iniesta collected a sliding pass into the area from substitute Cesc Fabregas and smashed the ball across goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and in at the far post.
Iniesta, one of the archetypes of an attacking philosophy that has grown out of his club team Barcelona, allowed Spain to become only the third team after Germany and France to hold both the European Championship and World Cup together.
Goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas was immediately moved to tears as the 116th-minute goal confirmed Spain's superiority in the game and made up for so many poor performances in tournaments past.
"The European Championship was the most important moment of our lives, but today is much bigger than anything else," Casillas said. "The Netherlands played a war out there but in the end the talent of the Spanish players shone through."
While Spain is usually known for wearing its opponent down through possession, it was left with little open space on the night as its usual quick-touch passing was often stopped in its tracks.
Nigel de Jong's flying karate kick to the chest of Xabi Alonso in the 28th minute best exemplified the difference in styles as the Dutch looked to grind down the Spanish and earn a victory.
The Dutch midfield tried its hardest to squeeze and foul the life out of Spain's small, fast and talented midfield and almost succeeded, keeping the Spanish away from goal until almost two hours had been played.
By the time of Heitinga's 56th-minute yellow card, five Dutch players had been booked and the Spanish were showing frustration with the stop-start game. Even the normally demure Xavi Hernandez exchanged heated words with Mark van Bommel to start the second half.
"The Netherlands closed down a lot at the back and didn't let us get through," said striker David Villa, who finished the tournament with five goals. "We had some chances that we didn't put away, they had some chances, too."
But Jesus Navas' introduction for Pedro Rodriguez in the 66th saw Spain slowly began to find its way and take better control as the speedy winger's pace stretched the Dutch defence. Navas provided several opportunities for Villa soon after his introduction.
Fabregas replaced Alonso in the 87th to breathe further air into the Spanish attack as it pushed forward for the winner, with Fabregas' solo chance denied by Stekelenburg in the 95th.
As the Dutch legs tired and Iniesta was given more room to dart forward, it was Heitinga who tugged the Barcelona playmaker down to be only the fifth player sent off in a World Cup final.
After starting its tournament with a shock loss to Switzerland, Spain came good to live up to the hype of favourite, finally.
"This stays with us forever," Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets said. "Above all in our memories and we are left with a little star for our shirts which I think football owed us and which here in South Africa it has given us."