First Europe and now, possibly, the world for Spain, who won through to the Final of South Africa 2010 with a 1-0 victory over Germany in Durban. Carles Puyol’s 74th-minute header repeated the single-goal triumph over Germany that secured La Roja the European title two years ago and now only the Netherlands stand between them and a first FIFA World Cup™ title.
Whatever the outcome at Soccer City on Sunday, there will be history made with a new name on the Trophy after Spain produced their best performance of these finals to end Germany’s hopes of an eighth Final appearance and secure their first. Joachim Low’s men, missing the suspended Thomas Muller, were unable to repeat the scintillating displays with which they swept aside England and Argentina and, as in 2006, suffered the anguish of semi-final defeat.
While Germany were playing in their 12th FIFA World Cup semi-final, this was Spain’s first, although it was business as usual for Vicente del Bosque’s side, who dominated possession. Indeed Spain might have had an early goal when Pedro, making his first start of the finals in place of Fernando Torres, slipped a through-ball to David Villa after just six minutes. Clear of the Germany defence, Villa produced a sliding finish but Manuel Neuer was out of his goal fast to deny the Spaniard.
There was another nervy moment to follow for Low’s men after 14 minutes. From a short corner, Andres Iniesta drove in a centre that Puyol met with a flying header that, to the relief of the Germans, cleared the crossbar. Spain were dominating possession – more than 60 per cent in the game’s first quarter – but Germany, happy to sit deep and continue the counter-attacking game that had brought them such reward in previous matches, began to offer a threat. Lukas Podolski played in Mezut Ozil on the left and he duly supplied Miroslav Klose on the edge of the box, but the Bayern Munich forward was crowded out.
Iker Casillas was called into action for the first time just after the half-hour to turn behind a low 30-yard drive from Piotr Trochowski, the man brought in to replace Muller. On the stroke of half-time, Germany finally picked a hole in the Spain defence when Ozil broke into the box on to a pass from Klose. As Sergio Ramos challenged, the German midfielder went to ground but referee Viktor Kassai waved play on.
The second half began like the first, with Spain threatening Neuer’s goal as Xabi Alonso drove narrowly wide from 25 yards, then Villa curled another attempt wide of the same post. The pressure intensified with the hour approaching and Germany’s goal was lucky to survive intact. Xavi’s low shot drew a fingertip save from Neuer and as Per Mertesacker dawdled over his clearance, Iniesta nipped in and drove a low ball across goal that the lunging Villa was within a whisker of reaching at the far post. With Germany still unable to clear their lines, Pedro then fired wide.
Low sought to change things, sending on Marcell Jansen in place of Jerome Boateng and, later, Toni Kroos for Trochowski. It was Kroos who had Germany’s first attempt of the second half in the 69th minute, meeting Podoski’s far-post cross with a side-footed shot that Casillas beat away.
However, with 16 minutes remaining, the decisive goal came at the other end. From a corner by Xavi, Puyol leapt above team-mate Gerard Pique and powered a header past Neuer. Pedro could have ensured a bigger margin of victory in the closing stages but he allowed Arne Friedrich to dispossess him after bursting through in a two-on-one with substitute Torres. It did not matter in the end, Spain’s third successive 1-0 win carrying them into their first Final.