Spain reached their first ever World Cup final with a narrow victory over Germany in Durban. A headed goal from captain Carles Puyol 17 minutes from time was enough to seal a tight affair and set up an all-European tie with the Netherlands.
Manuel Neuer had to be quick off his line after six minutes to block as David Villa stretched to get a shot away after he was fed by Pedro Rodriguez. Puyol should have done better after 13 minutes, stooping low to head Andres Iniesta’s drilled cross over from six yards. In the 19th minute, Sergio Ramos shot wide of the near post from outside the right-hand edge of the area. Xabi Alonso shot wide from 30 yards after half an hour, before Piotr Trochowski hit a low shot at the other end two minutes later from distance that Iker Casillas had to push round his post. In the last minute of the first half, Ramos appeared to clip Mesut Ozil on the edge of the area but the referee waved German appeals away, before Pedro’s 30 yard drive was well held by Neuer moments later.
A wonderful jinking run from Pedro saw him tee up Alonso after 48 minutes but the Spanish midfielder could only pull his shot wide from 25 yards. Alonso was again off target two minutes later after Xavi had laid the ball to him. Spain came close to opening the scoring after 58 minutes, with Neuer parrying Pedro’s 20 yard shot before Iniesta fired across goal, just eluding Villa at the back post. Within 30 seconds, Pedro fired just wide from the edge of the area. After 61 minutes, Miroslav Klose volleyed Marcell Jansen’s deflected cross over after the ball fell just behind the German striker. Substitute Toni Kroos could have scored with his first touch but his first-time effort from Lukas Podolski’s cross was parried by Casillas at his near post after 69 minutes. Puyol powered home the winner with his head after 73 minutes, meeting Xavi’s corner 10 yards out after arriving unmarked from the edge of the area. It should have been two with eight minutes remaining after Spain found themselves two-on-one but Pedro opted to go alone and lost the ball to Arne Friedrich with Fernando Torres in acres of space.
The first half saw little in the way of goal mouth action, with the Spanish dominating possession but lacking the determination to do anything with it. For all their intricate passing and fluid movement among their front three, there was very little presence in the penalty area to finish off any of their numerous moves. Pedro was lively having replaced Torres in the starting line-up but his best work was on the outskirts of the box. With Villa playing as the lone striker rather than Torres, there was no height to aim crosses at when Spain continuously found room in wide areas. With the reluctance of the Spanish midfielders to make runs into the box, it was a case of keep-ball for large periods, interspersed with the occasional 30 yard shot.
With the height advantage enjoyed by Germany, it was somewhat unexpected that the Spanish goal should come from a corner. Puyol was allowed to move unmarked from the edge of the area to the danger zone 10 yards out where he powered a free header home. The nearest man to Puyol was his own teammate, Gerard Pique, with a line of three German defenders stood stationary along the six yard line. It was a lax piece of marking from the normally organised Germans, who appeared to be marking zonally without bothering to attack the ball when it was crossed into the centre of the box. It was a towering header from Puyol but he should never have been afforded a free header in such a crucial area, and Germany were fatally punished for their aberration.
After the gung-ho German performances on the counter attack in previous games, they were unable to really test the Spanish defence tonight. The suspended Thomas Muller was missed on the right hand side, with Trochowski unable to provide the same balance that had been a feature of the team in previous matches. Spain did not commit the number of bodies forward that Argentina and England had done, making it harder for the Germans to overload them on the break. With Alonso and Sergio Busquets sitting on the halfway line and Xavi dropping deep, there was always a barrier across the midfield every time Germany gained possession. Bastian Schweinsteiger had dominated for Germany at this World Cup but was unable to stamp his authority on the Spaniards, and he was not aided by Sami Khedira picking up an injury early on that hampered his impact until he was eventually replaced.
Spain now meet the Netherlands on Sunday in Johannesburg for the biggest match in their history. Whilst still not looking as formidable as they were in the European Championships two years ago, they will surely start as favourites against a Dutch team who have similarly made the final without excelling. The one area that the Netherlands may be able to test Spain that the Germans could not is by getting at Joan Capdevila at left-back. With Muller missing, Germany did not test Capdevila but Arjen Robben will be a different prospect provided the Dutch can get him into the game. Wesley Sneijder has been the player of the tournament for the Netherlands but Spain denied space to the similarly positioned Ozil tonight, and if they can keep Robben and Sneijder quiet then you would back the Spanish to get at least one goal to seal victory.
Germany – Neuer, Friedrich, Lahm, Mertesacker, Boateng (Jansen 52), Khedira (Gomez 80), Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Trochowski (Kroos 62), Podolski, Klose
Spain – Casillas, Pique, Puyol, Capdevilla, Sergio Ramos, Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso (Marchena 90), Busquets, Villa (Torres 81), Pedrito (Silva 85)