The Barcelona midfielder's 116th-minute strike makes Spain the world champions for the first time.
Spain are champions of the world after Andres Iniesta's goal deep into extra-time gave them victory over Netherlands in the World Cup final at Soccer City after a goalless first 105 minutes.
Iniesta netted as Spain broke to punish 10-man Holland after John Heitinga's sending-off seven minutes earlier.
Both sides lined up as expected. Netherlands continued with the 1 to 11 which has been Bert van Marwijk’s first choice line -up since Arjen Robben’s return from injury, while Vicente Del Bosque favoured Barcelona’s Pedro to Liverpool’s Fernando Torres just as he had for the semi-final victory over Germany.
At the renditions of the national anthems there were signs of nerves across the faces of players on each side, everyone concerned knowing that they could make history for their country by claiming the moniker of world champions for the first time.
The opening few minutes were notable mainly for the inability of either side to really string a significant series of passes together as every player looked to get a calming first touch of the ball. But in the fifth minute Spain created a real opportunity for themselves as they started to impress their authority on proceedings.
Xavi sent a free-kick in from the right to find the Sergio Ramos, who had gained half a yard on the flinching Robin van Persie, but the right-back’s header came from an awkward height and allowed Maarten Stekelenburg to make a full-length parry to keep the scores level.
Holland’s first shot at goal came when Dirk Kuyt scuffed a 30-yard effort after Sergio Busquets had failed to control a simple square pass, but the Liverpool wide man’s effort was easily gathered by Iker Casillas.
In the 11th minute Spain created a second decent opportunity, and again it was full-back Ramos who was the Johnny on the spot. Having run at Giovanni van Bronckhorst, he took a step to the right and saw a gap open up, but his right-footed effort was well blocked by Joris Mathijsen.
From the resulting corner Xavi Hernandez swung in a delicious far post ball for David Villa, but the striker’s volleyed effort hit the side-netting when he’d have hoped to do better.
The game was beginning to get a little scrappy as the Netherlands looked to find a way to earn more possession. Van Persie was the first player to enter referee Howard Webb’s notebook when he brought down Joan Capdevila with a nasty looking challenge, and moments later he was followed by Carles Puyol, booked for a tackle from behind on Arjen Robben.
Wesley Sneijder fired in a dangerous free-kick, but Casillas managed to collect before the ball took a potentially nasty bounce. Winger Robben was temporarily the centre of attention as within minutes he was running at Capdevila, eventually winning a corner as Xabi Alonso came in to cover.
The near-inevitable Mark van Bommel booking arrived in the 22nd minute, when he was late arriving for the ball and went right through Andres Iniesta. Seconds later it was 2-2 on the yellow card count after Ramos was slightly late sliding in on Kuyt wide on the Holland left.
Whilst Spain were still enjoying most of the possession, suddenly the Netherlands were managing to earn more territorial advantage, breaking up the rhythm of la Furia Roja’s passing temporarily. They did so by foul means rather than fair when Nigel de Jong’s high boot caught Alonso flush on the chest after the Real Madrid midfielder had nicked away a bouncing ball. The Oranje midfielder may have thought himself lucky only to become the fifth player cautioned, rather than the first man into the showers.
There was a much more pleasing piece of sportsmanship shown by the Dutch a few moments later. Iker Casillas had thrown the ball out after he’d collided with Puyol, allowing the Barcelona defender to receive treatment, but upon arrival of the long pass from a Dutchman at the restart, the keeper misread the flight and palm the ball away for a corner. However, Van Persie simply rolled the ball in from the flag to spare the Real Madrid man’s blushes and allow Spain to rebuild from the back.
The next Dutch corner nearly had a very different ending. Robben played the ball in low to the edge of the area, from where Van Bommel played a cross to the far post for Mathijsen, but the centre-back could only respond with a complete air shot.
Breaking up the other end, Spain could have had an opener when Pedro’s quickfire shot from range sailed just wide with Stekelenburg still to set himself.
Sneijder almost became the sixth name in the book when he caught Busquets just before the break as the game continued to flatter rather than thrill, but referee Webb saw fit to give the Inter midfielder a final warning.
On the stroke of half-time the Dutch created one of the best chances of the game so far when Robben cut inside to drill a low left foot shot which Casillas got down to and pushed wide.
Spain appeared to come out after the interval with a little bit more fire in their bellies as they looked to repeat their second half efforts against Germany. Within three minutes they’d forged an opening when Puyol got his head to a right wing corner and Capdevila failed to get anywhere near enough on his right foot effort and the ball ran harmlessly away.
Holland responded when Van Persie’s backheel sent Gregory van der Wiel in behind the Spanish defence, but his cross was met by no Oranje jerseys, though a nervous looking Casillas may have got a slight touch before the ball ran out and a goal kick was given.
Dutch skipper Van Bronckhorst was next in the book for pulling back Ramos as he went for a return pass in a dangerous position. From the set piece Xavi curled the ball just wide of the near post, but Stekelenburg had it well covered.
John Heitinga soon became the fifth Dutchman to have his name taken when he clattered into David Villa after Ramos had broken up a Holland attack and sent the forward on the run down the left.
Iniesta was perhaps lucky not to join them as the game once again threatened to deteriorate, his foul on Sneijder giving Robben the chance to swing in a free-kick towards Heitinga. The defender sent a header just across the face of goal, but had been flagged offside in any case.
Mathijsen did well to head away from a Capdevila cross as a game of football finally started to break out amongst the scrappy challenges.
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque made the first change of the final on the hour by introducing Jesus Navas for the ineffective Pedro.
Suddenly, the best chance of the final was handed to Robben by a delicious through ball by Sneijder and a bad misjudgement on the part of Gerard Pique. The Bayern Munich winger found himself one-on-one with Casillas, but after delaying once too often, his shot sent the glovesman the wrong way, but was blocked by Casillas’ boot nonetheless.
Capdevila joined the ever-increasing list of numbers in Howard Webb’s notebook but again the Netherlands failed to make the most of the resulting free-kick as they continued to get half-chances to show up the favourites.
Substitute Navas did superbly to run at Van Bronckhorst and make space to cross for David Villa, but after Heitinga had slipped to open a really shooting opportunity for the Spaniard the centre-back recovered magnificently to block the shot that followed.
Dirk Kuyt was replaced after a hard-working performance in favour of speedy winger Eljero Elia as Van Marwijk looked to keep Spain guessing at the back.
Heitinga conceded a further free-kick, which Villa could only tun over, before Sneijder got a second final warning from Howard Webb as the referee looked to save his ink with just 15 minutes separating the World Cup decider from extra-time.
After an excellent exchange between Villa and Xavi, the former had a left foot shot well blocked by Heitinga, but from the corner Sergio Ramos was guilty of wasting a magnificent chance to settle the contest as he headed over from eight yards when completely unmarked.
There was a real flashpoint in the 78th minute when Van Bommel caught Iniesta as he retrieved the ball, but the Spanish midfielder decided to take his own retribution by lashing out at the Bayern Munich man. Again, Webb decided that leniency was the correct course of action and Iniesta got away with only a lecture.
Iniesta then came extremely close to opening the deadlock when he jinked past Heitinga inside the box, but Wesley Sneijder of all people was sweeping up behind the defence and made a magnificent last-ditch challenge to save the Dutch.
In the 83rd minute it was Holland’s Robben who could have struck as he left Puyol and Pique in his wake before Casillas smothered the ball. The Bayern Munich winger exaggerated his contact with the keeper having shrugged off a near rugby tackle from Puyol, but all he succeeded in doing was earning a yellow card for his fall and subsequent penalty claims.
Spain’s second substitution saw Xabi Alonso replaced by Cesc Fabregas in an attacking change with just three minutes of normal time remaining.
Wesley Sneijder looked to steal a glorious victory on the stroke of full-time, but his ambitious 45 yard effort went harmlessly wide.
Within two minutes of the extra 30 minutes resuming, Spain thought they should have had a penalty when Heitinga and Xavi collided, but it looked as though the midfielder made contact with the Dutchman rather than the other way around.
The European champions then forced a real save out of Stekelenburg for the first time since the early moments of normal time as Fabregas broke clear, but the big goalkeeper did superbly to block his right foot shot.
Within seconds they were nearly behind when Casillas came for a corner and collided with Fabregas, leaving Mathijsen to beat Ramos in the air but miss the open goal.
It then took a magnificent piece of defending from Van Bronckhorst to keep the scores level as the game became more stretched. Fabregas sent Iniesta through, but the Dutch skipper did brilliantly to send Iniesta onto his wrong foot and then snuff out the danger, winning a goal kick to boot.
Bert van Marwijk decided to increase the attacking intentions of his team by bringing on Rafael van der Vaart for defensive midfielder De Jong.
In a now very open game, Jesus Navas’ shot deflected off Van Bronckhorst and found the side-netting before the Netherlands cleared the corner with relative ease.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst was then substituted into retirement, replaced by Edson Braafheid.
After spending over an hour warming up, Fernando Torres was finally introduced at the beginning of the second period of extra-time, surprisingly enough for the tournament’s joint top scorer David Villa in a like for like switch.
Elia went on his first attack at Ramos and beat the full-back with ease, but couldn’t reach his overhit touch before getting a cross in as Holland continued to look the more worried by the prospect of penalty kicks.
After so many yellow cards it appeared only a matter of time before a red would follow and with only 11 minutes remaining it finally came, though it did seem a little harsh on John Heitinga when he became the fifth player to be dismissed in a World Cup final.
The Dutch defender laid a soft hand on the shoulder of Andres Iniesta as the Barcelona man broke front and centre, but an exaggerated fall came after contact had been released. Nevertheless, Howard Webb saw fit to send off Heitinga for a second offence.
Moments later the 10 men were hit with another yellow when Van der Wiel took down the self same Iniesta.
Many Spain players asked for Holland to be reduced to nine when Robben turned in a left foot effort long after the whistle had gone for offside, but Webb, not for the first time tonight, showed leniency towards a man walking the tightrope.
With five minutes left a Wesley Sneijder free-kick was clearly met with a heavy deflection off Fabregas in the wall, but the referee’s rough night continued when he failed to spot the touch and gave a goal kick. There was then an apparent foul on Elia on the edge of the area overlooked as Holland looked for a winner.
And the decision was to be vital as Spain broke to the other end of the pitch and scored a 116th minute winner.
With the 10-man Dutch stretched, the Furia Roja used the extra man as Andres Iniesta got on the end of a crossfield ball at the far post to drill across Stekelenburg into the back of the net.
Spain's only bad news of the night came when Torres pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury in the second minute of injury time, but he'll be taking a World Cup winner's medal to the treatment table with him.