Spain close to greatness
Spain took the next step towards footballing immortality as they booked a place in the World Cup final with a 1-0 win over Germany.
By Peter Fraser
Last Updated: 08/07/10 8:47am
Spain took the next step towards footballing immortality as they booked a place in their first World Cup final following a 1-0 semi-final victory over Germany in Durban.
Flair, culture and aesthetics have underlined the rise to prominence of the European champions and the irony at the Moses Mabhida Stadium was therefore palpable as a no-nonsense Carles Puyol header settled the contest in the second half.
For Joachim Low's Germany it was a repeat of the heartbreaking 1-0 defeat to Spain in the final of Euro 2008 and it marked the end of a memorable campaign, but the emergence of a young, exciting side will no doubt signal a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
But it cannot be argued that the much-praised generation of Spanish players, who were playing in their country's maiden World Cup semi-final, did not deserve to book a date with Holland on Sunday and the chance to seal their name as icons.
Vicente del Bosque's pre-tournament favourites dominated possession and managed to quell the threat of Germany, surely making the group-stage defeat to Switzerland feel like a lifetime ago for those at home in Europe.
The final with Holland will now represent a clash between two of the continent's historical underachievers on the world stage, with the Total Football of the Oranje famously failing to succeed in finals in 1974 and 1978.
It will also mean that a new winner of the World Cup will be etched into the history books come the conclusion of events in Johannesburg's Soccer City at the end of the weekend.
As expected, Fernando Torres' struggle to find form in South Africa cost the Liverpool striker his place in Spain's starting line-up, but the surprise was that Pedro Rodriguez was selected to partner soon-to-be Barcelona team-mate David Villa.
Germany coach Low picked Piotr Trochowski to replace suspended winger Thomas Muller, while forward Miroslav Klose started with eyes on the one goal he required to draw level with former Brazil striker Ronaldo's record of 15 at World Cup finals.
Klose has established himself as a goalscoring great at World Cup finals, but 2010 will be remembered for the cautious and restrained approach of teams and, with the stakes increased, this semi-final was not embarrassed to follow suit in the opening exchanges.
Room to breathe
Spain dominated possession and Manuel Neuer had to be quick off his line in the sixth minute to collect a pass from the lively Pedro and deny Villa the chance to add to his five goals in South Africa, but the cerebral trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso were struggling to find room to breathe.
Around the quarter-hour mark, Iniesta drifted to the right in order to locate some space and he succeeded, pinging a cross in the direction of Puyol, however, the rugged centre-back is not known for his finesse and his diving header cannoned well over the crossbar.
With Spain enjoying predictable dictation of the infamous Jabulani, the pre-match theory suggested that Germany would plot to pick off their opponents with the enterprising and attractive counter-attacking that had swept aside England by a 4-1 scoreline and Argentina by 4-0.
But whether or not an intentional tactic of Low, who was sporting the blue V-neck sweater of the earlier victories in the knockout stages due to the superstitions of his squad and coaching staff, Die Mannschaft were cautious, Muller was being missed.
The 11-time World Cup semi-finalists did not seem to back their passing against that of the triangulating Spanish and as a result a fascinating tactical match of cat and mouse developed.
Spain had done their homework where England and Argentina had failed and Del Bosque's side were back in organised numbers on the occasions Germany did attempt to break, teaching Fabio Capello and Diego Maradona a lesson.
It appeared the best Germany would muster before half-time was a skimming Trochowski effort shortly after half-an-hour had been played, which had to be tipped around a post by Iker Casillas.
But in stoppage time before the blast on referee Viktor Kassai's whistle, Mesut Ozil burst forward and went down under pressure from Sergio Ramos. It was debatable whether the contact was inside the box, the Hungarian match official was not interested.
Spain, surely suffering the symptoms of déjà vu after being forced to grind down Portugal and Paraguay in the knockout stages, picked up where they left off after half-time. But Alonso, Xavi and Iniesta were beginning to come into prominence.
Alonso, first with the right foot and secondly with the left, had Neuer diving with characteristically caressed efforts, however, the Real Madrid man could not build on his excellent tournament to date with his first goal of the summer.
Low bizarrely decided the time was right to replace the Manchester City-bound Jerome Boateng with Marcell Jansen, before making the more understandable, attacking change of 20-year-old Toni Kroos for Trochowski 10 minutes later.
Spain, though, had stepped on the gas and Iniesta darted into the box after collecting the ball from Alonso to roll an agonising pass across Germany's six-yard box that proved just out of reach for Villa.
Germany took this as an invitation to show some attacking impetus of their own. Kroos, though, somewhat scuffed his glorious chance straight at Casillas when meeting Lukas Podolski's cross.
It was to be a harsh lesson for the Bayern Munich youngster as he would still have been ruing his failure to deliver a clean connection when Spain scored what proved to be the winner in the 73rd minute.
Xavi delivered a pinpoint corner and while Puyol had demonstrated in the first half that a deft touch might not be his forte, the centre-back displayed that he does not lack power as he ran and rose unchallenged to rocket a header past Neuer's left hand.Torres earned an appearance in the late stages and could have had his first goal of the summer if it had not been for the greed of Pedro, but Spain did not need a second and are now planning for an all-European final against Holland.
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|2||Shots on Target||5|
|2||Shots off Target||10|