Spain were hailed as champions in waiting by their defeated opponents tonight after Vicente del Bosque's side smoothed their passage to a first World Cup final with victory over Germany.
Carles Puyol's second-half headed goal, a rare brutal moment amid much scintillating Spanish passing, proved sufficient to ensure the European champions will face Holland in Johannesburg on Sunday. The Spain striker David Villa warned the Dutch that his team are finding their rhythm in timely fashion, insisting his team "will always rise to the occasion", and the beaten Germany coach, Joachim Loew, is convinced there will be only one winner at Soccer City.
"Spain are the best team in the world," said Loew, whose side lost the final of Euro 2008 to the same opponents. "They have won all their important games in the last two or three years and have been pretty much unchanged in that time. They play in an automatic way, with everyone knowing what is expected of him. I'm pretty confident they'll go on and win this title because, when they want to be, they are in complete control. They dominate opponents and games, and have shown they can beat anyone and everyone."
Xavi, outstanding in Spain's slick approach play, said: "We dominated this match and imposed our personality on the game. We had control from the start and played the way we wanted to. We were worthy winners. If we play like we did today against the Dutch, we'll have a great chance of winning that first World Cup."
Del Bosque, who succeeded Luis Aragonés after the team's triumph in Austria two years ago, conceded it had been a "difficult decision" to drop Fernando Torres to the bench, although his replacement, Barcelona's Pedro Rodríguez, excelled until the latter stages. The manager admitted his side are building momentum at the right time. "Losing to Switzerland in our first game was very tough and I don't think we deserved it," he said. "But we believe in ourselves, in the qualities we possess and our characteristics, and we've been growing throughout the tournament.
"That's what has taken us to the final. We feel better when we have the ball. When we don't have it, we suffer. Today we were pressed less than in our previous matches against Paraguay and Chile, games in which we suffered. They put us under pressure. Some people say we're in the final and haven't played any big opponents yet, but this is a huge achievement. We've been waiting for many years to have a major success. We deserve to be at the top and to be triumphant."
Germany's time may still come, with theirs a young side under development, although Loew's future as national coach remains unclear. His contract has expired and he intends to meet the German Football Federation at the end of the tournament. "The team should remain the same no matter who the coach is," he said. "We have a core, a nucleus, and their development has just started. It is far from over.
"I looked at the players' faces in the dressing room after the game and there was such disappointment, but we weren't good enough tonight. Spain are a wonderful team, so what more can I say? They deserved to win this match, absolutely. They moved the ball quickly and we weren't able to combat them. They have been the most skilful team over the last few years and they were better than us." © Guardian News and Media 2010