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Sunday, July 11, 2010
Spain conquers the world

By Leander Schaerlaeckens

JOHANNESBURG -- In an epic battle that was far more physical than it was attractive, Spain squeezed past the Netherlands in the dying minutes of extra time on Andres Iniesta's goal. Here's how the players rated.

Maarten Stekelenburg, Netherlands: A

Although Stekelenburg had no chance on the only goal of the game, he made two big saves. He stopped a header by Sergio Ramos in the opening minutes and denied Cesc Fabregas on a breakaway shot. Stekelenburg came up big in this final and showed himself a worthy successor to Edwin van der Sar.

Iker Casillas, Spain: A

The only players to really excel in this final were the goalkeepers. Like Stekelenburg, Casillas put on a fine display, as he's done all tournament. He, too, came up with several crucial saves, robbing Arjen Robben of a chance to get around him for an open goal, among others.

David Villa, Spain: B

Expected to carry Spain's attack, Villa was shut down by Joris Mathijsen, who was on him like a sweater all game. With the middle clogged, Villa wasn't able to find space. And he didn't do enough with the few chances he had.

Joris Mathijsen, Netherlands: A-

The beleaguered defender, always thought to be one of the weak spots of the team, had a splendid game, shutting down Villa by playing him ever so tightly. With the occasional quality long ball and even a dangerous header on goal, he stepped up big for the Netherlands.

Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands: B-

The quick playmaker was unable to jump into the hole sometimes vacated by Xavi the way he had for Inter Milan when it defeated Xavi's club, Barcelona, in the semifinals of the Champions League. Toward the end of the game, Sneijder started to panic and undertake silly shots from a distance.

Andres Iniesta, Spain: A-

Although his touch was off, Iniesta had much to do with the few moments that Spain was dangerous during regular time. Because he was tackled frequently in extra time, the midfielder helped get the Dutch in trouble with yellow cards. Not only did Iniesta get John Heitinga his second yellow, he scored the winning goal, keeping his cool when a lot of players would have lost theirs.

Xavi, Spain: B+

The playmaker didn't have his best game but he was crucial as always in keeping the ball for long spells and creating a handful of decent chances.

Arjen Robben, Netherlands: B-

You can bet Robben won't be getting much sleep as he relives the one big chance he had in the game, a one-on-one with Casillas that he failed to chip into the back of the net. And his theatrics and chirping at referee Howard Webb got more irritating by the minute.

Robin Van Persie, Netherlands: C

As in much of the tournament, van Persie had little to no impact on the game. Yes, he took down a few high balls, but he couldn't follow them up with meaningful attacks on goal. It's been a mostly forgettable tournament for RvP.

Sergio Ramos, Spain: B+

The wing back was Spain's most dangerous player for much of the game, putting a vicious header on target early on and then getting another fat chance in the second half. More than that, though, he kept Dutch left winger Dirk Kuyt busy defending and took him out of the attack for much of the time.

Nigel De Jong, Netherlands: A-

The Dutch bruiser had a good game in midfield, not just clogging up space for Xavi but also intercepting the ball regularly and preventing many of the Spanish from ever getting comfortable. He was fortunate, however, that he wasn't sent off after his spikes found Xabi Alonso's chest.

Carles Puyol, Spain: A-

The rock in Spain's defense was almost perfect Sunday night, barring a moment or two when he was badly beaten on speed. But this man has been at the center of Spain's remarkable achievements during the past few years.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for He can be reached at