JOHANNESBURG -- It made perfect sense that Andres Iniesta's 116th-minute, World Cup-winning goal Sunday night came as such a surprise -- a surprise in that both the Spanish and Dutch sides seemed to be utterly exhausted and playing for penalty kicks, and a surprise in that the Spanish players managed to stop rolling around on the ground long enough to score it. This was, after all, a month full of surprises, nearly all of them good ones, nearly all of them exhilarating. It wasn't long ago that rumors persisted that FIFA might have to snatch the sporting world's signature event from South Africa, and move it to a place like Germany. South Africa would never be ready in time, people thought. It wouldn't be safe, people thought. But it was ready, and it was safe, and Iniesta's goal capped a tournament that proved more accomplished than even most South Africans could have imagined. "WE'VE DONE IT!" exclaimed the headline of Monday morning's edition of South Africa's The Times newspaper.
It remains to be seen whether it was a wise gambit, in some regards, for a developing country to spend more than $5 billion on a sporting event. "This has been a wonderful World Cup," said archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu on Sunday, "but it doesn't negate the fact that the majority of South Africans don't have houses, schools, clinics, running water and many more things." It will take years to assess the economic impact, positive or negative, that the World Cup has had on South Africa. The day after, however, there is little doubt that the experience of hosting the tournament drew this still-fractured nation, just 16 years removed from the dismantling of apartheid, together in a way in which it has never been drawn together before -- and, perhaps even more crucially, that it drew the rest of the world closer to both South Africa and to the African continent as a whole.
This World Cup, however, also had its lighter moments. To that end, below find 50 observations, musings, lessons and memories that will be taken away from a month the likes of which the international sporting community has never before experienced, and might never again:
1. How successful was the South African security effort during this tournament? So successful that the top six most serious criminal acts against foreigners were all committed by the Netherlands' Mark van Bommel.
2. You know that spray that they use on players after they've been apparently irreversibly maimed, after which they immediately return to the picture of health? Have they tried that on hospital-bound patients yet?
3. From now on when I'm in the market for a box in which to carry my trophies, it will be a Louis Vuitton one. See? Sponsorships work.
4. Six commercial flights scheduled to arrive at Durban's King Shaka International Airport just before the semifinal between Spain and Germany were unable to land because preference was given to private jets carrying "VIPs" such as Charlize Theron, causing some 600 fans to miss the game that they had spent up to $4,000 to attend. FIFA suggests that those passengers try starring in Aeon Flux next time.
5. The early concessions queues issues seemed to be resolved as the Cup went on. However, those fans who waited in line for 45 minutes during the Uruguay/France match for the opportunity to purchase a $3 Halaal beef dog -- thereby missing exactly half of the first World Cup game ever played in Cape Town -- probably wish they had taken a moment to reprioritize.
6. An American reporter who approaches Chinese actors who are pretending to be North Korean soccer fans, and who probably don't speak English anyway, and asks them for an interview probably won't have much luck.
7. This just in, from the Dear Leader: North Korea never actually competed in the 2010 World Cup. Check the North Korean history books.
8. A human being can become accustomed to almost anything. Even vuvuzelas.
9. You really should read SI senior editors Mark Bechtel and Mark Mravic's "Randmarks" blog. Start with the post titled "Slovaks, Kids and Evil Bird-Raising Hoteliers".
10. After listening to the entirety of the Uruguayan national anthem, you will have trouble remembering a time when you were doing something other than listening to the Uruguayan national anthem.
11. If you have forgotten to bring either a beach ball or balloon to a game for the crowd to bat around, one of the free condoms they distribute in the bathroom, inflated and tied off, will work just fine.
12. If you were to have gone to the All-Star "Bafunny Bafunny" show, which featured six of South Africa's top stand-up comedians, you would have received an education as to the hilarious differences between Xhosa people and Zulu people, and you would have learned how much South African comedians love the names "Messi" and "Kaka." The joke of the night might have belonged to Nik Rabinowitz, who theorized that South African president and noted polygamist Jacob Zuma would stop at 16 wives because he had misheard his initial wedding vows as, "Four better and four worse, four richer and four poorer ..."
13. The comedians, and the audience, also made clear how terrifying a young South African politician named Julius Malema is. If you don't know about him, start with his Wikipedia entry.
14. This is not particularly new, but this World Cup again proved that the difference between the great teams and the very good teams is their ability to finish at the goal, and to defend. A lot of teams look similar when the ball's at midfield.
15. The U.S. is a very good team.
16. The most underrated aspect of the U.S.' stoppage-time goal against Algeria was Tim Howard's throw that set it all up. This was a pinpoint, 50-yard, Kevin Love-type fast-break-initiating outlet pass, and the U.S. would have gone home early without it.
17. The U.S., and Jozy Altidore in particular, could really have used Charlie Davies' services during this tournament.
18. Even though he didn't score a goal, Altidore proved that he has serious hops.
19. The U.S. still needs a nickname better than "United States Men's National Team" (USMNT). Suggestions here ranged from formalizing "The Yanks" or "The Stars and Stripes," to adopting the name of the official fan club ("Sam's Army"), to something entirely new like "The Screaming Eagles" or "The Gents" or "The White Stars" (an obvious "no" on the last one).
20. Two weeks after the U.S. lost its Round of 16 match against Ghana, foreigners are still stopping Americans on the street here to congratulate them on the way the team played. The goodwill engendered by the U.S.'s yeoman-like effort will last for a long, long time.
21. Despite his curious personnel decisions, Bob Bradley should remain the USMNT coach through 2014. Unless Sunil Gulati can persuade Jürgen Klinsmann to take the reins.
22. Referee Koman Coulibaly's eternal reputation will benefit from the events that followed -- i.e., Landon Donovan's stoppage-time goal against Algeria, and the U.S.'s resulting advancement out of the group stage -- in a way that Bill Buckner's and Steve Bartman's did not.
23. This remains the photo of the U.S.' 2010 World Cup experience.
24. Best uniforms? Argentina's home kit, as ever. Worst? I guess Slovenia's Charlie Brown number.
25. The U.S. uniform wasn't bad, if a bit milquetoast. Almost made one long for the days of these.
26. I can't wait for the reality show about Cristiano Ronaldo's family life with his new son, over whom he has 100 percent guardianship. Episode 1: Cristy II learns how to gel his hair. Episode 2: Cristy II learns how to do an ab workout. Episode 3: Cristy II learns how to loll attractively on the ground after he might or might not have been fouled.
27. Ronaldo's son has an American mother. Is it too early to start thinking about his role on the USMNT in the 2032 World Cup in Pyongyang?
28. Even though Cameroon lost all three of its matches, Rigobert Songalways wins.
29. Hey, European or South American guy who has just been kicked in the shin, and is rolling around on the ground in what appears to be a state of unimaginable agony? Everyone knows you're wearing shinguards.
30. When a South African says something will occur "just now," he or she means that there is at least some possibility that it will occur at some point in the foreseeable future.
31. Here is my 23-man all-Tournament team:
GK: Iker Casillas, SpainGK: Richard Kingson, GhanaGK: Maarten Stekelenburg, NetherlandsD: Lucio, BrazilD: Maicon, BrazilD: Pique, SpainD: Philipp Lahm, GermanyD: Sergio Ramos, SpainD: Carles Puyol, SpainD: Gio van Bronckhorst, NetherlandsM: Wesley Sneijder, NetherlandsM: Xavi, SpainM: Bastian Schweinsteiger, GermanyM: Landon Donovan, U.S.M: Thomas Müller, GermanyM: Keisuke Honda, JapanM: Andres Iniesta, SpainM: Gilberto Silva, BrazilM: Cristian Riveros, ParaguayF: Miroslav Klose, GermanyF: Diego Forlan, UruguayF: David Villa, SpainF: Luis Suarez, Uruguay
32. That Leo Messi is not on the above list is weird.
33. That Messi took 30 shots in this tournament without scoring is even weirder.
34. Forlan was the most impressive and most valuable player in the tournament -- and FIFA actually did something right by awarding him the Golden Ball, even though he finished only 44th in their somewhat mystifying Castrol Rankings.
35. Messi remains the best player in the world.
36. Some readers will continue to disagree with me, but I maintain that Sneijder's inability, or lack of desire, to get Robin van Persie involved in the Dutch attack cost them in the end.
37. I wonder what William Hill's pre-tournament odds were that an octopus would not only outperform but also garner more buzz than Wayne Rooney.
38. The life span of the common octopus is one to two years. Pulpo Paul was hatched in January 2008, so his keepers might want to think about getting his picks for 2014 pretty much now.
39. When you are a soccer player, and your girlfriend is both a) a television journalist and b) committed to her own journalistic integrity, be careful when you agree to a live interview with her after a big loss. Ask Casillas.
40. Of the two main 2010 World Cup songs, K'naan's Wavin Flags remains by far the superior. The U.S. Army should consider playing Shakira's Waka Waka at full blast next time it is trying to roust some foreign dictator from his hiding place.
41. The metaphor of the tournament has to go to South Africa Sunday Times columnist Fred Khumalo, who on Sunday compared the month-long experience of the Cup to "a symphonic dream in which you are wallowing in a hot Turkish bath with nubile women feeding you grapes, John Coltrane's version of My Favorite Things oozing from concealed speakers in the room."
42. South African newspapers can also get rather creative with their headlines and graphics.
43. Luis Suarez's game-saving, goal-mouth handball against Ghana has to rank among the greatest fouls ever taken in the history of sports.
44. Dear Roger Goodell: If Sepp Blatter calls and suggests swapping in a football made of ostrich leather or something for Super Bowl XLV in order to capitalize on merchandising opportunities -- pretend you've just driven into a tunnel.
45. Why aren't fans allowed, and never try, to keep balls that are kicked into the stands. Is FIFA really that cash-strapped? And can't someone pull the "That's not a ball under my shirt, I'm actually pregnant" trick?
46. It might have been boring to some, but the most technically exquisite game played during the Cup was the 1-0 semifinal between Spain and Germany.
47. South Africa spent more than $5 billion on this tournament. One would have thought it could have set a little aside for stadium TV screens larger than those typically found in college dorm rooms (Shakira appeared to be roughly 2-foot-6 when she performed on Sunday night) or on, you know, in-stadium clocks.
48. That the 92-year-old Nelson Mandela was able to make a public appearance before Sunday night's final -- even though it was brief, a quick golf cart lap around the field, and even though he was wearing a hat that appeared as if it was fashioned out of the skins of a half-dozen raccoons -- might have been the moment of the tournament.
49. Is there any chance your local Halloween superstore stocks Joachim Loew costumes this year? And can we lobby for this?
50. Germany's winning this thing in 2014 in Brazil. Ask Pulpo Paul, if he's still with us.