Spain won its first-ever World Cup Sunday with a 1-0 win over the Netherlands in extra time — a game that soccer officials hoped would go down as the most-watched televised event ever.
Playing in the final for the first time, Spain became the first European team to win a World Cup outside of Europe.
It was unclear whether global interest would match soccer officials' hopes, but there were encouraging signs: Saturday's 3-2 German victory over Uruguay, for third place in the tournament, set a German television record of 30 million viewers (40 percent of the population). And while soccer is nowhere near as popular in the U.S. as it is in much of the world, a record-setting 14.86 million viewers tuned in to watch the U.S. team lose to Ghana, sealing its elimination.
Sunday's game was probably not the type to win new fans to the sport, critics of which complain that not enough happens (to the blank stares of die-hards). The match was scoreless through regulation time, a drought that ended only with a goal by Andrés Iniesta as only moments remained in extra time.
Spain got to the final with a series of small but steady wins, beating Portugal, Paraguay and Germany 1-0. Spain scored the lowest total goals — eight — of any World Cup winner.
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The 62 games — not including Uruguay's loss to Germany and the final match — have averaged about 3 million viewers in airings on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.
While initial numbers have not yet come in for the final match, soccer officials hoped to top the 2006 audience of about 700 million viewers. "We don't want to speculate in numbers but we're hoping this will be the biggest [event] ever," Niclas Ericson, FIFA's director of television, said in a news conference at Soccer City Stadium on Sunday.
The most-watched event so far was the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, which garnered a billion viewers.