Unbeaten in 25 matches and on a 14-game winning streak, the Netherlands went into the FIFA World Cup™ Final boasting two formidable records. They were proud figures, but both sequences came to a shuddering halt as the Oranje were undone by Spain's breakthrough goal deep into extra time in Soccer City.
Defeat was especially harsh on the Dutch who must face up to their third loss in a FIFA World Cup Final™, the 1974 and 1978 showpieces also having passed the Oranje by. Despite the heartache, coach Bert van Marwijk had to admit that Spain deserved to win the encounter. "Spain had more chances, but with a little bit more luck we would've won it," said Van Marwijk. "We had our chances, but [Iker] Casillas made the difference," added centre-back John Heitinga, no doubt recalling Arjen Robben's two chances to beat the Real Madrid goalkeeper in one-on-ones.
"They had more chances than us,” Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg told FIFA, but that being the case, the match remained tight enough for both sides to believe they could have emerged triumphant. "After two Finals ending in defeat, we really wanted to go all the way this time and go down in history," said Stekelenburg. "We came here with that ambition. To lose like this is difficult."
We did all we could to become champions. We can be proud of the distance we've travelled and what we've done.
The Ajax No1 nonetheless admitted that he was never convinced the match would go to spot-kicks. "I wasn't thinking about penalties yet because I really had to concentrate on what was happening on the pitch," he said. "I felt that Spain applied a lot more pressure from the start of extra time."
Andres Iniesta capped that pressure by finding the net with a shot into the far corner four minutes from time. "I honestly thought that going to penalties would have left us with a huge chance of winning the World Cup," said Heitinga, who was sent off after 109 minutes after earning a second yellow for a foul on the Spanish scorer. "The goal we conceded was very hard to swallow."
With so little to choose between the teams, it was tough for the Oranje players to find anything positive to say after the whistle. "The team can't blame themselves," said Robben. "We did all we could to become champions. We can be proud of the distance we've travelled and what we've done." Team captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst added at the end of his final outing that he was "proud to belong to this team despite this failure". He and his colleagues will now have to travel home empty-handed, with thoughts of what could have been sure to linger for a number of years to come.