Like little stars.
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 was the same score as the European Championship final two years ago, which Spain won to end a 44-year major title drought.
But while the European title is nice, nothing compares to being the world champ.
“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.
Captain Philipp Lahm was in tears as he watched Spain celebrate. 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.
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.
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.
“From defense through to attack I think we played a great game,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “We’ve got another game in front of us, let’s see if we are able to control the ball. We’re in good shape physically, so let’s see if we can win.”
Like little stars.
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World Cup fever sweeps South Africa, June 11, 2010
South Africa is hosting the19th FIFA World Cup, which began on June 11 and concluded on July 11. This is the first time the tournament was held in Africa. More than 200 national soccer teams began competing three years earlier
for the 32 slots in the tournament. World Cup matches were played in cities across South Africa, including Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.