DURBAN, South Africa — 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 exact 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.”
Somebody is sure to.
Spain will play the Netherlands in Sunday’s final at Soccer City in Johannesburg, ensuring a first-time champion. The Dutch, who beat Uruguay 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. Their smiles were so bright they could be seen all the way to the top of the stadium in Durban, their roars of elation almost loud enough to drown out the blare of those vuvuzelas. Two teammates grabbed Villa, who has scored all but two of Spain’s goals here, and carried him on their shoulders.
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 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 after picking up a second yellow card in the quarters. But the Germans looked as if they were back in Vienna for much of the night, allowing big, bad Spain to dominate again.
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 lost to a great team.
Spain has been the best 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, and that longevity makes for seamless and fluid play that is usually breathtaking.
Injuries had taken a toll on the Spanish in South Africa, and they didn’t have anywhere near their usual polish. Fernando Torres, who can be 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 watching — the Spanish came through with their best game yet.
“We worked hard to get here and now we have made the final,” Villa said. “It’s a great thing.”
Spain dominated possession the entire game, and it peppered Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer so many times it seemed inevitable the Spanish would eventually score.
Finally, they did, setting off celebrations from Durban to Madrid.
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.