World Cup Soccer
                === Spain triumph caps tournament of firsts ===
 By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
 Philadelphia,  PA (Sports  Network) - When the 2010 FIFA World Cup was awarded
 to  South  Africa on  May 15, 2004,  the tournament promised  to be a history-
 making event.
 The  19th  edition of the competition  would be the  first to be played on the
 African  continent, but  the location  wasn't the  only first  that we
 South  Africa proved to be a gracious host, but it was maybe a bit too kind as
 Bafana  Bafana  became  the  first  host nation  to  be  eliminated  from  the
 tournament at the group stage.
 Spain's  1-0 win over the Netherlands in Sunday's final allowed the Spanish to
 call  themselves world  champions for the first time, and they also became the
 first  team to  lose their  opening match  at a  World Cup  and still  win the
 South  America was  on its way to  unprecedented success in South Africa, as
 they put  four teams in the quarterfinals for the first time ever, but only
 Uruguay emerged to reach the last four.
 The final itself made history as it was the first time that two European teams
 met  in a World  Cup final played outside of Europe, while Africa almost got a
 huge first of its own with Ghana's run to the quarterfinals.
 The  Black  Stars became  the third  African nation  to reach the quarterfinal
 stage  -  joining Cameroon in 1990  and Senegal in  2002 - and the only things
 that  kept them from making history were the hand of Uruguay's Luis Suarez and
 a wayward penalty kick from Asamoah Gyan.
 Each  of  those events was memorable  in its own way,  and here were a few
 more moments to be savored from South Africa.
 Best Goal: Giovanni Van Bronckhorst (Netherlands vs. Uruguay)
 The Dutch captain provided his team with a huge lift in the semifinal win over
 Uruguay, as he scored a fantastic goal out of nowhere. The goal arrived in the
 18th  minute, when  Van Bronckhorst surprisingly unleashed a rocket from
 almost 40  yards  out that found  its way  perfectly inside the  right post.
 It was a stunning goal that helped to open up a tight Uruguay defense and put
 the Dutch on a path to the final.
 Honorable Mention: Siphiwe Tshabalala (South Africa vs. Mexico)
 Tshabalala provided the tournament with its first goal in the second half of a
 1-1  draw against Mexico,  and what a goal it was. He couldn't have placed the
 ball any more perfectly into the upper-right corner with a left-footed laser.
 Best Save: Maarten Stekelenburg (Netherlands vs. Brazil)
 With  the Dutch seemingly  on the ropes in the first half of their
 quarterfinal match  with Brazil,  Stekelenburg came  up with  a huge  save on
 Kaka shortly before  halftime to  keep his team within a goal. Following a
 wonderful build-up, Kaka fired a shot that appeared to be headed for the
 upper-right corner of the  net that would  have given Brazil a two-goal lead
 and all but spelled the end  of the Dutch. But Stekelenburg got a hand to it,
 tipping it past the post and sparking a second-half rally to help the Oranje
 Honorable Mention: Luis Suarez (Uruguay vs. Ghana)
 It isn't often that a striker finds himself in this position, but with Uruguay
 and  Ghana  locked in a  1-1 draw  in the dying  moments of extra time, Suarez
 swatted  a  header  from  Ghana's  Dominic Adiyiah  off  his  own  goal  line,
 eventually  leading to a Uruguay win on penalty kicks and making Suarez public
 enemy number one in Africa.
 Player of the Tournament: David Villa (Spain)
 Villa  finished the  tournament  with  five of  Spain's  eight  goals and  his
 contribution  was even  more  important because  of the  poor  form of  strike
 partner  Fernando Torres.  Spain didn't score a lot of goals, but Villa scored
 them  when it  mattered most and he  played a major role in Spain's first-ever
 World Cup title.
 Honorable Mention: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
 Sneijder  scored  one goal  in  the  first  three  group-stage games  for  the
 Netherlands,  but he saved his best for the knockout round, scoring four goals
 and  assisting  on another as the  Dutch got past Slovakia, Brazil and
 Uruguay, respectively, to reach the final.
 Young Player of the Tournament: Thomas Muller (Germany)
 Muller  has  set the  bar very high  for future World  Cups as the 20-year-old
 scored  five goals  and  assisted on  three  more as  Germany  stormed to  the
 semifinals.  The  Bayern Munich youngster  was a  constant threat on the right
 wing  and was  particularly dangerous on the counter attack. He was wrongfully
 suspended for the match against Spain in the semifinals because of yellow card
 accumulation, and his absence was clearly felt.
 Game of the Tournament: Uruguay vs. Ghana
 It  wasn't the  most aesthetically pleasing game of the competition, but there
 was  nothing close to  the drama that took place in the final minutes of extra
 time between the two teams. With the game locked at 1-1, Ghana had a chance to
 win the game when they were awarded a penalty kick after Uruguay's Luis Suarez
 handled the ball on his own goal line to prevent a goal. However, Asamoah Gyan
 saw  his kick  smack off  the crossbar,  and  Uruguay went  on to  win in  the
 Most Disappointing Team: France
 There  are a number  of other teams that could easily slip into this spot, but
 France  was  the biggest  disgrace of all  in South Africa.  Not only did they
 finish  last in Group A with just one point, but they also refused to practice
 after  striker Nicolas  Anelka  was  sent home  by  lame-duck manager  Raymond
 Domenech.  Television  footage of  a French trainer  throwing his credential
 in disgust  on the  practice field pretty much  summed up how things went for
 Les Bleus this summer.
 Biggest Surprise: Uruguay
 They  needed  to beat Costa  Rica in a two-legged  playoff just to reach South
 Africa,  after finishing  fifth in South American qualifying. But once they
 got to  the  African continent,  Oscar Tabarez and  his team won  Group A and
 then proceeded  to beat  South Korea in the  round of 16 before a dramatic
 penalty-kick  victory over Ghana. Uruguay's luck ran out in the semifinals
 against the favored  Dutch, but they  reached the last four of the World Cup
 for the first time  in 40 years and have something to build on for when the
 tournament comes to Brazil in 2014.
 Team to Watch in 2014: Germany
 The  Germans have  finished third in each  of the last two World Cups but they
 will  be eyeing a place in the final when the tournament shifts to Brazil four
 years  from  now. The hosts will  obviously be overwhelming favorites, but the
 Germans  will  be bringing  almost the  same team  from this years tournament,
 including  star  players like  Philipp  Lahm,  Bastian Schweinsteiger,  Thomas
 Muller and Mesut Ozil, who will each be in or entering their prime.
 07/11 20:25:06 ET

Powered by The Sports Network.