JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Spain gloried on Monday in a first World Cup triumph that finally buried their decades-old tag of international underachievers while the dejected Netherlands came to terms with a third defeat in the final.
But the finale in Johannesburg of the first World Cup held in Africa was scarred by a horrific turn of events elsewhere on the continent when bombs ripped through two bars packed with fans in Uganda, killing 64 people.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but al Qaeda-inspired militants in Somalia have previously threatened to attack Uganda for sending peacekeepers there.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the attacks, which hit while fans viewed Sunday night’s game. An American was among the dead, as were 10 people of either Ethiopian or Eritrean origin.
“When there were three minutes to the end of the match an explosion came ... and it was so loud,” witness Juma Seiko said at a Kampala rugby club showing the match.
In Madrid and elsewhere around Spain, crowds partied through the night long after the last “Ole” sounded inside Soccer City, Johannesburg, scene of Spain’s greatest soccer moment.
“We still don’t realise the full extent of this. It is something incredible,” match-winner Andres Iniesta said.
In Amsterdam, there was utter dejection as the Dutch saw history repeat itself after defeats in 1974 and 1978 finals.
Sadly for them, their reputation as the best team never to win the World Cup will stick -- for four more years at least.
Both sides had deserved to be in the final, showing fantastic teamwork to drag themselves beyond 30 other teams through the month-long tournament of 64 games in total.
Yet their final encounter was a disappointing affair, spoiled by too many fouls and only just spared the agony of a penalty shootout when midfielder Iniesta stepped up in the dying minutes of extra time to make it 1-0 and game over.
It was fitting that captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas should raise and kiss the trophy first after twice thwarting speedy Dutch winger Arjen Robben when through on goal.
The dejected Dutch crumpled to the grass at the end, their hordes of orange-clad fans stunned into silence for once.
For so long failing to live up to expectations on the international stage, Spain have now won the European championship and World Cup in succession.
Spain are deserved and popular winners, their midfield maestros Iniesta and Xavi playing delightful passing soccer, and David Villa proving sharp up front when most needed during the tournament. He ended up joint top scorer with five goals.
Spain’s triumph could hardly have come at a better time to lift morale with the nation depressed by debt and unemployment.
After the final whistle, impromptu fireworks displays and joyous car parades began across Spain. Tennis champ Rafael Nadal said Spain should celebrate the “unrepeatable” feat for a year.
Though the final may have been a let-down, there was plenty to remember at Africa’s first World Cup.
Off the pitch, the local “vuvuzela” trumpets provided a unique if droning backdrop that had some eulogising local atmosphere and others reaching for their earplugs.
On a darker note, France’s player revolt over the expulsion of Nicolas Anelka sparked a national inquest and will go down as one of the most shameful episodes of the World Cup.
There were characters aplenty, not least Argentina’s Diego Maradona. He jumped and joked on the touchline like a circus clown while his team were winning, then looked as distraught as a baby who had lost his dummy when Germany knocked them out.
The Germans’ four-goal assassinations of Australia, England and Argentina were among the best performances of any team.
Underdogs lit up the early stages, most notably Slovakia who beat previous world champions Italy 3-2 and South Africa’s “Bafana Bafana” team who defeated France. New Zealand, amazingly, ended up the only unbeaten team of the tournament.
Then there were the controversies.
Frank Lampard’s shot against Germany clearly crossed the line for England, but the referee and linesmen failed to spot it, while on the same day Carlos Tevez was blatantly offside when he scored for Argentina against Mexico.
There was nothing, however, to match the controversy caused by Luis Suarez of Uruguay. The striker’s desperate handball block on the line against Ghana in the dying seconds of extra time deprived Africa of its first ever semi-finalist.
Former President Nelson Mandela’s triumphant appearance on the pitch before Sunday night’s final crowned a fantastically successful tournament for organisers South Africa which showed its new and best face sixteen years after apartheid.
“The nation has crossed a huge psychological barrier,” said local World Cup boss Danny Jordaan.
(Reporting by Reuters World Cup team; editing by Matthew Tostevin)
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