Published July 07, 2010
| Associated Press
On a team filled with offensive threats, it was a defender who finally put Spain in its first World Cup final.
Good luck, Netherlands. Spain might be simply too loaded — and too good — to lose.
"I am sure Spain will win the title," Germany coach Joachim Loew said after Spain beat his team 1-0 in the World Cup semifinals Wednesday night. "They're the best team."
Loew won't get much argument. Not after the way the reigning European champions dismantled a team that had been rolling through South Africa, winning on Carles Puyol's thunderous header off a corner kick late in the second half.
Spain has been the best team in Europe — all the world, really — for much of the last four years. It's lost all of two games since November 2006, one a shocker to Switzerland in the group-stage opener. It clinched its first major title in 44 years by beating Germany at the 2008 European Championship. By an identical 1-0 score, no less.
But injuries to Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas had robbed the Spanish of some of their flair, so much so that some wondered if their time had passed.
This ought to put those doubts to rest.
"We can say Germany wasn't as good as we thought they'd be today," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "But that is due to the excellent performance of our team."
The score may have been 1-0, but don't let that fool you. Spain dominated this game from the opening whistle. It pressured Germany relentlessly, and had a 13-5 advantage in shots on goal.
Finally, after coming oh, so close several times — including on back-to-back plays in the 57th minute — Xavi swung a corner kick right into the scrum in front of the goal in the 73rd. With fellow defender and Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique next to him and screening Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer's view, Puyol leaped and got his head on the ball.
With one mighty swing that sent his trademark long curls flying, Puyol buried the ball into the net.
As the Germans watched in dismay, the Spanish players gathered for a group hug at the edge of the box, bouncing up and down and rubbing each other's heads. The Spanish fans, Queen Sofia included, let loose with a roar of jubilation that shook the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
"We've shown that in the big moments we can grow even more," Villa said. "We should have scored more goals, but one from Puyol has put us in the final."
When the final whistle sounded, the Spanish players on the field thrust their arms in the air while the substitutes raced out to join them. Two teammates grabbed Villa, who has scored all but two of Spain's goals here, and carried him on their shoulders.
In the stands, Spanish fans partied deep into the night, waving flags, banging on drums and singing chorus after chorus of "Ole! Ole! Ole!"
Spain will play the Netherlands on Sunday at Soccer City in Johannesburg, ensuring a first-time champion. The Dutch, who beat Uruguay 3-2 on Tuesday night, have lost in their only two trips to the final.
The two teams have never met in the World Cup and their all-time series is dead even.
"This is one of the greatest moments for Spain, for us to be in the final of the World Cup, it's history," said Villa, who remains tied with Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder for the tournament scoring lead at five goals apiece. "And we want to make more history in the final."
For Germany, it's yet another disappointment. This was the three-time champions' third straight trip to the World Cup semifinals. Yet just like in 2006, they're headed for the third-place game.
"Right now, I really don't feel like playing for third place," captain Philipp Lahm said. "The disappointment is very big. We had a lot as our goal and we didn't succeed."
It certainly isn't what the Germans envisioned after overhauling their team following that Euro 2008 loss. Loew brought in youngsters such as Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira and goal-scoring machine Thomas Mueller, who was suspended against Spain after picking up a second yellow card in the quarterfinals.
The newcomers infused Germany with a speed and smoothness few other teams could match, and it rolled over old rivals England and Argentina by a combined score of 8-1.
But there's something about Spain that brings out the worst in the Germans. Those counterattacks that were so devastating against England and Argentina never materialized, and the midfield spacing that had been so impressive was almost nonexistent.
"They were simply," forward Miroslav Klose said, "the better team."