All the talk before the game was of youth, but it in the end it was one of football’s great old warhorses who settled a tense semifinal and put Spain into their first World Cup final.
Carles Puyol, his mane of shaggy hair making him instantly recognisable, rose majestically to power home Xavi’s corner from the left. And then when Germany threatened to do what they had done so often before and come back to rescue a seemingly lost cause, it was Puyol who threw his body in the way of shots and preserved Spain’s vital lead.
It was a typically gutsy performance from the Barcelona centre-half, who many had criticised as being too slow to handle modern young forwards, whose movement and pace were predicted to leave him exposed.
But Puyol has always made up for his relative lack of pace, and at 1.78 metres also his relative lack of height, with a superb sense of positioning and a fierce will to win every ball and every game.
“He heads the ball like a wild boar,” said Xavi, after the winning goal. “We had the fortune to score this goal from a corner, with a great header from Puyol.”
His talent as a defender was late to bloom. The 32-year-old Catalan started out as a goalkeeper and then played in the Barca youth system as a right-winger, before making his first team debut in 1999 as a right back. He switched to centre back two years later and UEFA named him “best European centre back” in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
Puyol was first chosen as the captain of Barcelona at the end of the 2003-04 season.
After winning two La Liga titles and the 2006 UEFA Champions League, he went on to captain his beloved Barcelona in the historic 2009 season, in which the Catalan club won no less than six titles: La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish SuperCup, the European SuperCup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Puyol has almost 500 first team appearances for Barcelona. He made his debut for the national team in 2000, and has scored three goals in his 89 appearances for La Roja. But he will probably never score a more important one than Wednesday’s — unless that is, he pops up to head the winner in Sunday’s final.
His teammates are already preparing for that moment. “If we win the World Cup we will try to cut off his hair,” said his defensive partner Joan Capdevilla.
Keywords: 2010 FIFA World Cup