By: Jason Le Miere
Spain marched onto their first World Cup final and a meeting with the Netherlands after defeating Germany 1-0 in Durban thanks to a powerfully headed goal from Carlos Puyol seventeen minutes from time.
While the semi-final remained on a knife edge for much of the contest, Spain created the best openings throughout and gradually began to increase the pressure before Puyol’s marvelous header from a pinpoint Xavi corner.
Spain, who began with the out-of-form Fernando Torres on the bench, replaced by Pedro, started the match brightly; predictably dominating possession and making Germany look uncomfortable when they had the ball by pressing in numbers. In the first fifteen minutes Spain had two chances to turn this early edge in an advantage in the score sheet. In the sixth minute David Villa, running onto a neat through ball from Pedro, had an opportunity to add to his five goals already in the World Cup. Villa, though, had to stretch to get his shot in and Germany keeper Manuel Neuer was able to block the effort.
Spain’s best chance of the half came only eight minutes later when Puyol, unmarked six yards out in the center of goal, disappointingly headed over from Iniesta’s fine cross.
Germany started to come into the game more half way through the first period, looking particularly dangerous on the break. Piotr Trochowski saw a fine low effort from outside the area just turned around the post by Iker Casillas.
In injury time came Germany’s best opening of the half and the game’s most contentious moment. Launching one of their trademark breaks that proved the death nail for England and Argentina in previous rounds, Mesut Ozil was played through the center by Miroslav Klose, but lost the ball and fell to the ground under challenge from Sergio Ramos. The replays clearly showed Ramos tangled with Ozil’s legs, although the initial contact appeared to be just outside the area.
In the second half Spain regained the ascendency and started to crank up the heat on the German goal. They came desperately close to scoring in one attacking spell that produced three near misses. First, a shot from the edge of the area by the impressive Pedro forced a good stop from Neuer, before Spain worked the ball to Andres Iniesta down the left of the area, but his drilled ball across the face of goal agonizingly evaded the touch of a Spanish attacker. Before Germany could catch their breath, however, Spain were threatening again, this time Pedro fired a shot just wide of the German goal.
Germany were not out of it, though, and they created their best chance in the 69th minute. Lukas Podolski chipped a ball over from the left to the back post where substitute Toni Kroos was unmarked, but his side footed volley bounced down into the ground and in the end was pretty comfortable for Casillas to parry away.
But Spain would not be deterred and they quickly got back on the offensive and broke the deadlock through unconventionally Spanish means. Despite all the lovely interplay and wonderful skill on the ground displayed by the Spanish team in this contest, the breakthrough came through a towering bullet header from their inspirational center half. Xavi put the ball into the perfect spot from a corner from the left and Puyol, surging toward the ball from the edge of the box, arrived perfectly to power a header past the despairing Neuer.
For Germany, who had been full of youthful vigor and vitality throughout the tournament, the goal was a killer blow and for the first time they looked to have run out of gas, and belief. While they tried in vain to grab an equalizer, it never truly looked like arriving as they failed to create another worthwhile chance.
Indeed, if another goal was going to come, it was the Spanish who looked likelier to get it. With Germany chasing the game, Spain appeared perfectly adept to take advantage on the counter. The best of the several openings they had fell to Barcelona man Pedro, who, bursting clear with substitute Torres to his left and only one German defender back, somehow contrived to lose the ball, much to Torres’ chagrin.
In the end, though, Pedro’s aberration did not prove decisive and the final whistle blew to cue a pitch invasion and wild celebrations from the Spanish bench. Now only the Netherlands stand in the way of Spain getting their hands on the World Cup trophy for the first time, on Sunday in Johannesburg.