Elia is a more natural winger than Kuyt. He plays all the way out, close to the touchline and doesn’t mind his defensive duties as much as Kuyt. This gave Holland width on the field, which stretched out Spain’s defense and made space for Robben to turn into goal, which is why Holland looked to be the biggest goal threat in the second half.
On the other side, Spain brought on Cesc Fabregas for Alonso, which allowed Xavi to drop back into his preferred space, one that allows him to see the entire field and orchestrate the attacking area. Fabregas plays a more direct attacking style than Alonso and had a one-on-one early on.
Jesus Navas came on for Pedro Rodriguez, which gave Spain speed, and similar to Holland’s Elia sub, gave Spain width it needed, allowing more space for Andres Iniesta and Xavi to work. Deep into the second overtime half, Holland’s Heitinga was tracking Iniesta when he committed the foul that led to his second yellow card and dismissal from the game.
A short time later, Navas started off a long run and as Spain moved forward, Fabregas was in an advanced position to make an assist to Iniesta who found himself free to score the winning goal.
With this victory, Spain added another clean sheet to their world record for the most consecutive knockout games without conceding a single goal, a fact that shows the power of possession as a defensive strategy as much as an offensive one.
After Spain defeated Germany in the 2008 European Championship, the Spanish people wondered if it was a fluke. They now know it was not. Spain will go down as one of the greatest international teams in history. At times, they struggled to find the best balance in their system. But they remained committed to their positive, attacking style and defensive abilities, and were rewarded with a landmark win.