Africa, home to 16 per cent of the world’s population, hosted its first World Cup but the continent’s soccer teams failed to take advantage of familiar conditions. Only one — Ghana — of the five qualified African nations made it to the knockout stage. And the Black Stars rightly felt aggrieved when Luis Suarez’s ‘hand of god’ act stopped Dominic Adiyiah from settling the contest late in extra-time in the quarterfinals.
Suarez, standing on the goal-line, used his hand to stop Adiyiah’s effort from a Stephen Appiah rebound. Asamoah Gyan missed the resultant penalty and the red-carded Suarez had the last laugh as Uruguay won the contest on penalties.
South Africa, the first host nation failing to make it past the group stage, ended its campaign in style as it secured an unlikely 2-1 win over pedigreed France — the 2006 finalist — in its last group game. Defending champion Italy, too, had a nightmarish outing, failing to win any of its matches.
The European flag was, however, held high as Spain recovered from a shocking start — a 1-0 defeat to Switzerland — to cruise through to the finals. The Netherlands, boasting an all-win record, also made it to the summit clash after slaying two South American giants — Brazil and Uruguay — in the knockout rounds. Manager Bert van Marwijk artfully used the pace and creativity of Wesley Sneijder, adjudged the second best player of the tournament, and Arjen Robben, as the Dutchmen raked in 12 goals on their way.
Heavily inspired by the tiki-taka football of Pep Guardiola-coached Barcelona, Spain benefited from its possession-based game as it stymied opponents, conceding just twice in the tournament. Enjoying a 57 per cent possession in the final, largely due to its influential midfield, Spain allowed its opponent just five harmless shots on target, before a moment of individual brilliance from Andres Iniesta in the 116th minute broke the tired Dutch resistance.
The Netherlands loss left New Zealand as the only unbeaten team in the World Cup, as it drew all its group games to finish third in Group F.
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