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Carles Puyol — a Spanish hero

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Carles Puyol. — PHOTO: AP
Carles Puyol. — PHOTO: AP

: Carles Puyol was feted after his towering header settled the World Cup semifinals against Germany and sent Spain into its first ever final.

All the talk had been of Spain's metronomic passing patterns beforehand and the rapier-like finishing of David Villa.

Instead, a goal any traditional English centreback would have been pleased to score decided the contest — and even the regional Catalan press got behind not just the Barcelona man but the team, saluting one and all for their triumph.

With the Germans having provided only sporadic threats of their own, it seemed a hoped-for classic might need extra-time or even spot kicks to separate rivals who also fought out the final of Euro 2008 — when again Spain emerged the victor 1-0, with Fernando Torres on target.

Only third goal

With the Liverpool striker out of sorts and on the bench it called for something a little bit different and Puyol duly delivered from Xavi Hernandez's corner.

Puyol has been a mainstay of the Spanish side for a decade — he has also played for a Catalan selection, now coached by Johan Cruyff, on four occasions. But his goal was only his third in 89 appearances.

Even so, it was enough to book a historic final against the Dutch at Soccer City in Johannesburg and guarantee a new winner of the trophy.

“After all he has given to the team, to score a goal like that is well deserved,” remarked teammate Joan Capdevila afterwards.

“I am delighted for him,” said Xavi as the man himself disappeared under a welter of well-wishers.

At club level, Madrid media often plays down the contribution from Catalan club Barcelona and the feeling is mutual with regard to the little-love-lost ‘esteem' in which the Catalan media holds Real Madrid.

When Barcelona beat Arsenal in the Champions League final in 2006 and Puyol — who hails from the western Catalan town of La Pobla de Segur in the province of Lleida — held aloft the trophy.

In that game, just three Spaniards started — all of them from the Catalan region — with the same number starting for Arsenal.

Against Germany, just three Real Madrid players started the game — skipper Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso compared with seven Barcelona stars — including new signing from Valencia, Villa.

As Catalan newspaper Avui put it Thursday — “they call them (Spain) La Roja for their kit — but the soul of Vicente del Bosque's squad is blaugrana (the blue and wine red colours of Barcelona).

However, the whole of Spain was united in saluting the national side — and in particular Puyol — who started off as a goalkeeper and then switched to striker as a youngster.

“A masterpiece — historic,” enthused Marca sports daily, “Spain are within reach of glory,” was how ABC daily saw it.

It was left to Catalan Spanish-language daily Mundo Deportivo to sum up the importance of the man with the number five on his back.

“Puyooooooooooooooool!”, blared the headline of a report which noted: “Only Barca's skipper managed to score.”— AFP

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