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 favored 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 foot 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 center 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. But 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 center-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.