Spain outplayed Germany yet again.
And now the Spanish have the biggest prize of all within their sights.
Spain will play for the World Cup title for the very first time, thanks to Carles Puyol’s goal on a powerful header in the second half Wednesday night. The 1-0 victory over Germany was a repeat of the teams’ meeting in the European Championship final two years ago, which gave Spain its first major title in 44 years.
“This is one of the greatest moments for Spain, for us to be in the final of the World Cup, it’s history,” said David Villa, who remains tied with the Netherlands Wesley Sneijder for tournament scoring leader at five goals. “And we want to make more history in the final.”
Spain faces 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.
When the final whistle sounded, the Spanish players on the field thrust their arms in the air while the substitutes raced onto the field. 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!”
“We worked hard to get here and now we have made the final,” Villa said. “It’s a great thing.”
For Germany, it’s yet another disappointment. The three-time champs were making their third straight trip to the World Cup semifinals. Yet just like in 2006, they are headed for the third-place game.
“The disappointment is very big. We had a lot as our goal and we didn’t succeed,” said captain Philipp Lahm, who was in tears after the game. “Right now, I really don’t feel like playing for third place.”
Indeed, the Germans looked devastated. Bastian Schweinsteiger was on his knees for several minutes, and not even a consoling pat on the back from Puyol helped.
The Germans retooled their team after the Euros loss in Vienna, bringing 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 quarters. 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, and they looked as if they were back in Vienna for much of the night.
Those counterattacks that were so devastating against England and Argentina never really materialized, and the midfield spacing that had been so impressive was almost nonexistent.
Then again, making opponents look bad is becoming Spain’s trademark.
“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.”
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. With all but two of the starting lineup playing for either Barcelona or Real Madrid, the Spanish play with a seamlessness and fluidity that’s almost intuitive.
“They have been playing together for several years, they are very cohesive, their moves come automatically,” German striker Miroslav Klose said. “They were simply the better team.”
Granted, Spain hasn’t had its usual polish in South Africa, with injuries taking a big toll. Fernando Torres, normally so devastating offensively, is still struggling to recover from knee surgery in April, and was dropped from the starting lineup Wednesday night. Cesc Fabregas played all of two games before the World Cup after breaking a bone in his leg in March.
But with the World Cup title so close — not to mention Queen Sofia on hand — the Spanish came through with their best game yet.
“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.”
They dominated possession the entire night, and they peppered Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer so many times that a goal seemed inevitable.
Finally, they did.
Xavi swung a corner kick right into the scrum in front of Neuer in the 73rd minute. With fellow defender — and Barcelona teammate — Gerard Pique next to him and screening Neuer’s view, Puyol leaped up and got the ball. He gave one mighty swing of his head, his long curls flying. Neuer dove to his left, but had no chance to stop the ball as it thundered into the net.
The Spanish players gathered for a group hug at the edge of the box, bouncing up and down and rubbing each other’s heads as Lukas Podolski barked at his teammates in frustration.
“I am sure the Spanish can win any game,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said, “because they are dominant and it’s hard to contain their attack.” AP
Photo: Germany’s Lukas Podolski, left, and Spain’s Xabi Alonso vie for the ball during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Germany and Spain at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, South Africa, Wednesday July 7, 2010.