Less than impressive first half for World Cup final

First published in World Cup News

Holland and Spain were still searching for an opening after the first 45 minutes of the World Cup final in Johannesburg.

A less than impressive first half started brightly enough with plenty of entertainment in the opening 10 minutes and Maarten Stekelenburg pulling off a fine save to keep out Sergio Ramos. But the quality waned thereafter and Manchester City midfielder Nigel de Jong was lucky to escape with just a yellow card after a poor challenge on Xabi Alonso.

There was a delay of several seconds even before the players walked out onto the field for tonight's World Cup final when a roaming fan, not the first seen in South Africa, found his way onto the pitch.

Unfortunately for him, he was tackled just before he managed to get his hands on the trophy, which was placed close to the team dug-outs.

When the action did get under way, the European champions showed little sign of a team that had struggles to score many goals so far.

Vicente del Bosque's team, who have netted just seven so far, could have been ahead after five minutes but were denied by an excellent double save from Maarten Stekelenburg.

The Holland goalkeeper first dived to his right to keep out Sergio Ramos' header after Xavi's teasing free-kick, before closing down Gerard Pique.

The Dutch were gifted their first opening moments later when Sergio Busquets uncharacteristically conceded possession, but Dirk Kuyt's shot was straight at Iker Casillas.

Ramos then beat the Liverpool winger on the right, but his shot was turned away for a corner by a last-ditch John Heitinga tackle.

David Villa almost fooled the capacity crowd when he volleyed into the side netting as Spain again came close to an opening.

After Robin van Persie and Carles Puyol were booked by Howard Webb, Wesley Sneijder struck a 30-yard free-kick straight into the arms of Casillas.

Two more players were cautioned - Mark van Bommel and Ramos - with Holland showing signs of getting more into the game, but both sides still looked nervous by the midway point of the half.

De Jong was fortunate Webb did not see a high tackle against Xabi Alonso differently with the Manchester City midfielder escaping with just a yellow card after his foot landed on the chest of the Real Madrid man.

Casillas did have his first real nervous moment of night when the Dutch tried to hand possession back to their opponents after the goalkeeper put the ball out of play so that Puyol could receive attention.

The ball bounced unkindly, and even though it seemed to be heading wide, it needed a touch from the Spanish number one to make sure. A clever short corner from Arjen Robben then saw the ball played from Van Bommel to Joris Mathijsen on the left, but he missed the ball altogether as the chance went begging.

Pedro dragged a long-range strike wide minutes later as both sides seemed to be labouring. Shortly before the break, Alonso sent a 30-yard free-kick wide, before Robben drew the best save of the half out of Casillas with a poked shot from the right, that was turned away for a corner. Press Association

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