(CNN) -- Spain won the World Cup for the first time in its history as an extra-time goal from midfielder Andres Iniesta gave his country a last-gasp 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final at Soccer City.
The showpiece game of the South Africa-hosted tournament on Sunday was littered with no less than 14 yellow cards and one red but was settled by a moment of magic by the Barcelona man after he was played in by substitute Cesc Fabregas.
His 116th-minute strike was the goal all Spaniards were waiting for and spared both sides the agony of deciding the new world champions by penalties.
The breakthrough came after the Dutch had been reduced to 10 men, following Johnny Heitinga's dismissal in the second half of extra time by referee Howard Webb for a foul on Iniesta.
"It's incredible," Iniesta told gathered media in a post-match news conference.
"What a joy especially when you see how we won it. There aren't the words to describe what I am feeling. After my goal, I thought about my family and all the people who I love. But the victory is the fruit of a lot of work," an emotional Iniesta told reporters.
Spain coach Vincente del Bosque added to the happy sentiment following his side's victory: "Today is a reward for beautiful football. Everyone in the dressing room is ecstatic," he said.
Del Bosque, who won two European Cups when in charge of club side Real Madrid, dedicated the win to his countrymen.
"Spain, the country, deserves this triumph. This goes beyond sport. We have to celebrate and are delighted to be able to offer this victory to all the people of Spain."
Del Bosque said it had been a pleasure to coach the side, which with the win adds the World Cup to its European crown.
"There is joy of being 50 days with this group of players who have given us the world title. It was a difficult match. Afterwards, I think that we were slightly better," he added.
The coach also refused to be drawn into criticizing the tough tackling of the Netherlands: "I'm here to speak about the beautiful things of football. Holland played a good game in an even, balanced match. Yes it was rough at times, but that is part of football."
For the Spanish came joy, but for the Dutch, desolation. The Netherlands lost its third appearance in a World Cup final, after previous defeats in the 1974 and 1978.
Two second-half chances went begging for star player Arjen Robben. The flying winger was sent clear by Wesley Sneijder, only to be denied by a superb save from Spain captain Iker Casillas, who stuck out a leg to send the ball wide.
Late in normal time Robben was also through and appeared to be pulled back by Spain defender Carles Puyol before Casillas saved again at his feet.
Spain had great chances in the second half with David Villa denied by the legs of Heitinga, and Sergio Ramos who headed over with the goal at his mercy.
At the end of normal time, the game remained scoreless, as the dropping temperatures and deadlock in the match served to quiet the sell-out crowd in the Soccer City Stadium.
In extra-time, Spain pressed forward with yet more urgency and Fabregas was put through by Iniesta only for goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg to deny him with a smart save.
With the game opening up, Joris Mathijsen was nearly an unlikely scorer for the Dutch while Spain substitute Jesus Navas saw his shot deflected into the side netting.
But in the second half of extra-time, the goal chances dried up until Iniesta cropped up to score the winner.
Substitute Fernando Torres, who later pulled up in agony clutching his hamstring, played in the initial ball.
It was poorly cleared, falling to Fabregas, who sent a neat pass through to his teammate Iniesta, who had cleverly stayed onside.
The Dutch angrily protested Webb should have awarded an earlier foul, but he waved the protests away and was soon signaling the end of an eventful final, marred by persistent fouling that broke up the natural rhythm of the game.
A chest-high tackle in the first half by Nigel de Jong, which left Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso nursing bruised ribs, might have earned a red card, while Mark van Bommel also escaped harsher punishment after another thumping challenge.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk -- who lost out on the chance to have become the first coach since 1970 to have led a side through World Cup qualifying and the finals unbeaten -- conceded Spain had deserved to win.
"The best team won. I am disappointed. Early on we gave chances away, we were not good enough in possession of the ball. But then we turned it around. We made a real game out of it and we had two great chances through Arjen [Robben].
"It is very bitter, but that is sport. It is harsh. Spain were the better team," he told reporters after the game.
In Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, most of the hundreds of thousands of people who'd gathered in the Museumplein square to watch the game on a giant screen filtered out in stunned silence after the final whistle, leaving behind trampled orange hats and a smattering of tearful people sitting on crates with their heads in their hands.
"I thought we could hang on till the penalties, and then it would have been 50-50," said a man in his 30s, wearing face paint in the colors of the Dutch flag.
A woman in her early 20s had an expression that veered between a smile and a frown.
"We really thought we could do it," she said. "It was tough to watch, and it feels tough now."
Back in South Africa, Van Marwijk defended the tactics that had seen his side regularly penalized by the referee: "It is not our style, but then again you play a match to win. It is a World Cup final, and there is a lot of emotion -- you saw that at the end of the match.
"I would have loved to win the match, even with not so beautiful football. I'm not someone to look back on the what the referee did. I think the best team usually wins the match," he added.