Spain clinch first World Cup Victory


Spain’s place among world football’s all-time greatest teams was assured Sunday when Andres Iniesta scored with four minutes of extra time remaining to beat the Netherlands 1-0 and clinch his country’s first World Cup.
With the teams facing a penalty shootout after an often ill-tempered 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.
The goal clinched Spain’s fourth straight 1-0 victory in South Africa and made the team only the third to be world and European champion at the same time. At the final whistle, the Spanish players hurried to swap their blue shirts for their more familiar red colors in time to collect the trophy. They donned shirts decorated with a single gold star to mark their triumph, becoming the eighth nation to receive the honor in the tournament’s 80-year history.
The Dutch players trudged forlornly to collect their runners-up medals, the third squad from the Netherlands to finish second in football’s biggest game. It was a less-than-classic performance by Spain and both teams created few clear chances at Soccer City, although the game opened up slightly after a cagey opening hour. The Netherlands broke up Spain’s attempts to get its famous passing game going with physical play that brought nine yellow cards. Defender John Heitinga got his second yellow and was sent off in the 19th minute of extra time to become only the fifth man to get a World Cup final red card.
With Spain also collecting five yellows, the total beat the 1986 record of six between Argentina and West Germany and made it the dirtiest World Cup final of all time. Extra time was littered with almost as many chances as normal time. Stekelenburg saved a low shot by Fabregas before Robben was blocked and defender Joris Mathijsen headed over at the other end. With Wesley Sneijder crowded out and Spain striker David Villa continually forced wide in search of possession, Robben looked the most likely player to put the finishing touch to his team’s uncompromisingly physical approach. The winger broke free in the 62nd minute but his low shot to the far post was brilliantly kept out with the toe of Casillas’ right boot. He was clear again with seven minutes of normal time remaining, collecting Robin van Persie’s flick from Nigel de Jong’s hopeful punt forward. Robben held off Carles Puyol’s attempts to wrestle him to the ground and tried to take the ball across Casillas, only for the goalkeeper to gather it at the forward’s feet.
Villa and Sneijder had few chances to add to their five tournament goals, the latter unable to find his range with free kicks and most notable for the sliding pass between Spain’s central defenders that set Robben free in the 62nd. Villa went closest in the 70th when Stekelenburg somehow knocked his close-range finish over the bar, shortly before Sergio Ramos headed over the bar while unmarked. Villa, Sneijder, Uruguay striker Diego Forlan and Germany forward Thomas Mueller tied at the top of the tournament scoring charts with five goals from seven matches. Mueller took the golden boot for the leading scorer, winning because of the number of assists he provided.
The Netherlands’ physical approach only began after its attempt to defend deep in the opening exchanges allowed Spain 60 percent of possession and gave away chances. Stekelenburg had to dive at full stretch to keep out a header by Ramos, and Villa broke free of the defense only for the Netherlands to be saved by a narrow offside call. The Dutch responded by pressing hard whichever Spanish player happened to be in possession, heralding a spell of five yellow cards – three of them for the Netherlands – in 14 minutes. De Jong was lucky not to get a red card when he slammed his boot into Xabi Alonso’s chest. But one incident showed the Dutch fouls were perhaps down to surplus passion rather than a premeditated mean streak.
Casillas threw the ball upfield and out to allow Puyol to receive treatment after a heavy fall. In keeping with sporting convention, the Netherlands attempted to return possession to the Spanish but the punt back to Casillas deflected up off the turf and forced the goalkeeper to tip it behind for a corner. Not a single Netherlands player went forward for the corner kick and Van Persie just rolled it along the ground for Casillas to pick up.

Defending Champion Italy crash out of World Cup in first round


Finally, perhaps even mercifully, this rusted hulk of a team was towed away from the World Cup on Thursday, its battery dead, tires flat, windows smashed after a 3-2 loss to Slovakia, which was playing in its first World Cup.While Slovakia advanced, Italy, the defending champion and a four-time winner, exited after group play for the first time since 1974, having steered far off its intended course.A tie would have sent Italy to the second round, but even that remained elusive for a team that seemed aimless until late in the second half. Slovakia played more urgently, controlling much of the game, receiving two goals from forward Robert Vittek and refusing to be awed by Italy’s reputation.The most extraordinary act that Italy performed in this hapless World Cup was Thursday’s postgame soliloquy by its coach, Marcello Lippi, who retired after the match.

There will be much discussion about what went wrong. Many have criticized Lippi for relying on aging players, like defender Fabio Cannavaro, 36, and midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, 32, who both showed their years against Slovakia. The forwards he favored, like Alberto Gilardino, did not deliver here. And perhaps Lippi was too stubborn and loyal to call earlier on a reserve like Fabio Quagliarella, who played inspired on Thursday in the second half but was unable to lift his team fully from its torpor. Injuries did not help. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, one of the best in the world, left Italy’s opening match and was told he had a herniated disk in his back. The playmaker Andrea Pirlo injured a calf muscle before the World Cup began and did not appear until the 56th minute on Thursday. It did not help, either, that creative players like Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero had retired from the national team.

Mexico upset France


Mexico went ahead in the 64th minute when Hernandez ran onto Rafael Marquez’s pass and rounded goalkeeper Hugo Lloris before guiding the ball home. Hernandez’s grandfather, Tomas Balcazar, scored for Mexico against France in the 1954 World Cup, although that was a consolation goal.

Blanco converted a penalty in the 79th after Eric Abidal fouled Pablo Barrera, who came on for the injured Carlos Vela in the first half.

Mexico is now level on points with Uruguay, both with four. They play each other in the final group game knowing a draw will be enough for both to advance. France and South Africa both have one point, leaving both needing a win in their match while hoping for a result in the other game.

Mexico could have scored more against a French defense which looked shaky, with Abidal caught out of position on both goals. Abidal is normally a left back but Domenech picked him at center half alongside William Gallas.

Sidney Govou’s inclusion was a surprise to many observers after his poor performance against Mexico, but Domenech kept him on the right wing. Govou gave right back Bacary Sagna little protection, however, and Mexico soon figured out that pushing Salcido higher up the field was a dangerous option.

Brazil beats North Korea


Brazil escaped with a hard-fought victory in the Group G match after struggling to get past the defensive setup of the North Koreans, who are making their first World Cup appearance in 44 years and, at No. 105, arrived as the tournament’s lowest-ranked team.

Maicon scored at Ellis Park after a through ball from midfielder Elano in the 55th minute. Brazil controlled possession from the start but struggled to break through the Korean lineup with five men at the back. Robinho was about the only Brazilian able to create some dangerous opportunities.

Robinho had his own chance with a long-range shot that missed the target in the seventh and with a quick strike from inside the penalty area that was saved by Ri in the 20th. Robinho cleared a defender again inside the area in the 34th and set up Michel Bastos’ shot that missed over the crossbar.

Brazil continued to dominate in the second half but still without enough poise to break through the Korean defense.

Brazil has won all of its opening matches since a 1-1 draw with Sweden in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. The five-time champions begin the World Cup with a revamped squad following the disappointing elimination in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Dunga left out stars such as Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Adriano and preferred lesser-known players known for their discipline and hard work.

North Korea is hoping to repeat its heroic campaign from the 1966 tournament in England, when it produced a surprising win over Italy to reach the quarterfinals. The Koreans arrived as most mysterious team in the tournament, with opponents having a hard time finding information about the team playing for the reclusive communist state.