With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar due to get underway in November, we're taking a look back through the history of the World Cup at the good, the bad and the amazing moments that remain in our memories to this very day and will live on forever.
In 2010, yet another historic renewal of the FIFA World Cup was set to take place, and it was historic for two primary reasons. One, it would be the first-ever World Cup played on African soil, and two, it would be played in a fourth continent having previously only been hosted in South America, Europe and Asia.
The footballing world descended on South Africa for a tournament that would be one to remember. There were several highlights, few more dramatic than the late South African equaliser scored by Siphiwe Tshabalala during the opening game at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
However, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will probably be remembered most for the brilliance of the Spanish, who played with a style and elegance that few ever have before.
For the people of Spain, the 2010 World Cup would turn out to be the most memorable of all, and for good reason.
Ahead of the footballing showpiece, the Spanish were at the top of the tree in terms of footballing dominance. Fresh from their victory at EURO 2008, where they dazzled with their eye-catching and often astounding tiki-taka style, the Spanish were feared by everyone.
Despite being the European champions and going into the tournament as one of the teams to beat, Spain got off to the worst possible start in South Africa, as they lost to Switzerland on match-day one.
Performance-wise, Vicente del Bosque’s men didn’t do too much wrong in that first game. They dominated the ball with 73% of possession, showing far more in terms of attacking intent, but try as they might, despite taking 25 shots to Switzerland’s nine, they couldn’t find a way through, before being punished on the counterattack. Spanish plans of world dominance were being derailed. They needed to bounce back instantly to avoid disaster.
Bounce back they would, beating both Chile and Honduras, advancing to the knockout stages as group winners thanks to their superior goal difference.
The man who made the difference
As central midfielders go, Andres Iniesta is up there with the very best, and not just of his generation, but of all time. The diminutive playmaker simply stood out every time he stepped onto the pitch.
During the mid ’90s, as manager of Barcelona, Bobby Robson, when talking about the Brazilian Ronaldo, famously said “can anyone, anywhere, find me a better player?”, had he asked that question ten years later, he would’ve been talking about Spain and Barcelona’s Iniesta, the midfield magician, who in the centre of the park stood alone thanks to his mesmerising footballing ability.
In the mid-to-late 2000s, as well as the first half of the 2010s, if Barcelona or the Spanish national team needed someone to make the difference, Andres Iniesta answered the call time and time again, whether it was scoring hugely important goals, like his last-minute strike away at Chelsea in the Champions League, which flew into the top corner when Barcelona were on the brink of elimination, or doing the hard work in midfield before setting up a teammate, as he did on so many occasions throughout an illustrious career, during which he won just about everything imaginable.
When it came to the World Cup in 2010, Iniesta, having made his debut four years earlier, was an integral player. He started the first game, though when a change of system was called for on match-day two, the Barcelona man was dropped to the bench. Spain won 2-0 at Iniesta didn’t feature, though his absence was temporary, as on match-day three, he returned to the starting line-up, scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over Chile. That goal sent Spain into the knockouts and paved the way for what was about to come.
One of Spain’s best-ever stuns soccer city
Those lucky enough to see Iniesta play throughout his career know that his game wasn’t so much about goals, nor assists, but about getting his team up the pitch, carrying the ball, bypassing the press of opposition midfielders with his trickery, guile and elusivity, creating gaps for those in front to exploit. And yet, for all his midfield brilliance, all his playmaking, his quick feet and that trademark side-step that left many a player helpless, it was one strike of his right foot that would arguably define his career. That strike would come in Soccer City on July 11th, 2010.
Having eventually made light work of getting through the group stages, Spain endured a tough Round of 16 clash with neighbours Portugal, and it would be a tense Iberian derby, one that would eventually go the way of Vicente Del Bosque’s European Champions, who won by a goal to nil, thanks to a 63rd-minute strike for David Villa, who notched his fourth goal of the tournament when he poked a rebound past Portuguese keeper Eduardo. The chance arose after Iniesta played a deft ball into Xavi, who flicked first time to the goalscorer.
The maestro would once again be at the heart of the creativity that led to the winning goal during Spain’s 1-0 win over Paraguay in the quarter-final. In typical fashion, Iniesta received the ball on the turn mid-way into the opposing half, before slaloming between two defenders, and passing into Pedro. He looked sure to score, though his effort came back off the post and fell kindly for the prolific Villa, who was on hand to notch his fifth of the tournament.
Spain’s run of 1-0 wins would continue in the semi-final, and they would once again be in for a gruelling affair. The Germans pushed the Spaniards as hard as anyone had for some time, but thanks to a towering header from imperious defender Carlos Puyol, the team known as La Furia Roja, which translates as the red fury, booked their place in the final.
The final would be another huge test for a Spanish side desperate to get their hands on football’s greatest prize. They faced a Dutch side containing some of the world’s hottest talent in Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder, and who on their way to the final had defeated both Brazil and surprise package Uruguay.
They knew that they’d be up against it, especially going up against danger-man Sneijder, who already had five goals to his name. However, as well as being known for playing their quick-paced, eye-catching passing game, the Spanish had stated to make a name for themselves as a tough-to-beat side that had no shortage of grit and determination.
In Soccer City, one thing would be guaranteed. Come the end of the game, a new name would be on the trophy, as somewhat astonishingly, neither Spain nor the Netherlands had ever lifted the World Cup before, a travesty given the rich footballing history of both.
The final itself wasn’t a classic. It was a tense and frankly unruly affair, one that contained no shortage of fouls and breaks in play. By the end of normal time, with the teams deadlocked at 0-0, nine yellow cards had been brandished by referee Howard Webb, who became just the second Englishman to rule over a World Cup final after Jack Taylor refereed the 1974 final between the Netherlands and West Germany.
Onto extra-time the game went, and it wasn’t long before Iniesta was pulling the string. After five minutes of the first period, the midfielder played a beautifully weighted pass which put Cesc Fabregas through on goal, but Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg was equal to the effort.
After a few half-chances for both, Spain began to gain the edge, going close through both David Villa, before Fabregas had another near-miss.
The breakthrough finally came after 116 minutes when an attempted cross was poorly cleared to the feet of the aforementioned Fabregas, who spotted Iniesta to the right of the goal, lurking just inside the penalty area. With the ball rolled his way, Iniesta took one touch, the ball popping up off his right foot, before being sweetly struck low into the Dutch goal, leaving the Stekelenburg helpless.
In fitting style, one of Spain’s greatest ever players, maybe even the greatest, delivered the moment that remains the greatest in Spanish footballing history.
Dedicated to Dani Jarque
It was also fitting how Spain’s hero dedicated the winning goal to Dani Jarque, who sadly and shockingly died from a heart attack less than a year before Spain won the World Cup.
Despite playing for the two biggest teams in Barcelona, Jarque and Iniesta were close friends, and Iniesta, by his own admission, was hugely affected when the 26-year-old suddenly passed away from an unexpected heart attack in August 2009.
Speaking after his nation’s triumph in South Africa, the Spanish great went on record saying that the death of his friend had put him in a desperate position where he required professional help. Adding: “it was certainly the hardest phase of my life”.
After scoring that generation-defining goal, Iniesta wheeled away in celebration, taking off his shirt to reveal an undershirt with the words “Dani Jarque: siempre con nosotros”, which translates as “always with us” . A fitting tribute from one of football’s best.
Following the World Cup, Iniesta returned to Barcelona, where he continued to help the Spanish giants thrive, winning title after title. When he finally left the Catalan club in 2018, Andres Iniesta had nine La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, six Copa del Rey’s and two UEFA Super Cups.
A team player, always looking to get his team into the best position. Often playing in a way that benefits those around him, Iniesta, who at the age of 38 still plays for Vissel Kobe in Japan, is one of the most recognisable footballers of the 21st century.
On the biggest stage in 2010, he showed his class and unselfishness by using the biggest moment of his career to pay tribute to his fallen friend.