Spain's golden generation finally reach nirvana
© AFP

The year 2010 will forever be remembered as the time when Spain's golden generation lifted the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time in history with their 1-0 extra time final win over the Netherlands in Johannesburg seeing them become the eighth country to capture football's ultimate prize.

After waiting 44 years to win a major trophy, Spain made it two in as many years, following up their 2008 UEFA EURO success with FIFA World Cup glory in South Africa after Barcelona's Andres Iniesta scored the winner deep in extra time to spark wild fiestas on 11 July.

"I still can barely believe that I got the chance to score the winning goal," said Iniesta. "Spain deserved to win this World Cup and it is something to treasure, to enjoy, to be proud of."

Spain had started the finals with a 1-0 group loss against Switzerland, but Vicente del Bosque's side came back to win the tournament and make history by becoming the first European team to win the trophy on a different continent. Scoring the winning goal capped a fine season for Iniesta, one of the players short-listed for the Ballon D'Or, as Barcelona retained the league title in May and Real turned to super coach Jose Mourinho to try and end their dominance.

Domestic giants dominate
Barcelona beat arch rivals Real in both Clasicos (1-0 and 2-0) and Argentine Lionel Messi scored 34 league goals to win the Pichichi award for the league's top-scorer. Barcelona notched a league record 99 points to take the title on the final day of the season and Real's 'Galacticos' ended up empty-handed despite setting a best-ever points tally of 96.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's most expensive player at €94m, had a fine debut season, however, it was in vain with Real also crashing out of the UEFA Champions League at the last 16 stage to Lyon in early March.

Barcelona reached the Champions League semi-finals but lost 3-2 on aggregate to Mourinho's Inter Milan side who defended doggedly at Nou Camp to knock out the holders. Atletico Madrid were Spain's surprise victors in Europe winning the inaugural UEFA Europa League by beating Fulham in the final.

Mourinho was a hero for Real Madrid fans who feared Barcelona winning the Champions League final at their Santiago Bernabeu stadium and, with Manuel Pellegrini's days numbered, Real lured the Portuguese coach, who had raised his profile with a league, cup and Champions League treble for Inter, to the Spanish capital to steal the headlines ahead of the FIFA World Cup.

Spain went into the tournament as one of the favourites and finally lived up to their billing with David Villa top-scoring with five goals en route to the final where Spain defeated the Netherlands 1-0. Spain beat Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and the Netherlands without conceding a goal to become world champions for the first time and their style of play mirrored that of Barcelona with the 'Tiqui Taca', or one and two-touch play, dominating possession.

Before the FIFA World Cup, Barcelona had struck a deal to bring Villa to the club paying Valencia €40m for his services although they could not tempt Arsenal to part with Cesc Fabregas. Mourinho brought in German internationals Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil on the back of a successful FIFA World Cup, however, the new-look Real flopped in his first game in charge with a 0-0 draw at Real Mallorca in late August.

Barcelona and their host of weary South Africa 2010 stars also started poorly and the double champions were stunned in their first home match of the campaign as promoted Hercules won 2-0 at Camp Nou. Thereafter both giants found their stride with Barcelona collecting 31 points from a possible 36 to trail Real by a point going into the first Clasico at the Nou Camp on 29 November.

Mourinho had gone 12 games unbeaten in the league with ten wins and two draws making him the most successful managerial debutant ever in La Liga but his first Clasico was to be memorable for all the wrong reasons. Barcelona gave bitter rivals Real a footballing lesson with Villa scoring twice in a 5-0 mauling at the Nou Camp and Mourinho's first loss in charge of Real was also the heaviest defeat in his glittering career.

"Loss, yes - humiliation, no. I don't think it reflected the difference between the two sides," Mourinho. "The league is not over." It was a fifth successive Clasico win for Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola whose side went two points clear at the summit.

In Europe Barcelona and Real are both in the knockout phase of the Champions League after topping their respective groups.