Spain reach first World Cup final

Spain grasped their place in a World Cup final with Holland on Sunday by proving that they can stop being their elaborate selves when different methods are essential. A disappointed Germany will be stunned that they should have conceded a goal at a set-piece, when Carles Puyol headed home after 73 minutes.

His side were more at ease thereafter and Pedro squandered an opportunity to extend the lead. This, even so, is an emerging Germany line-up that will be more formidable still in the next few years. Spain took care and their own team selection was altered as they avoided acting out of mere habit. One of their best attackers enjoyed just an eventual cameo.

A night that poses a challenge such as this can question every assumption. Vicente del Bosque, for instance, had previously been determined to nurse Fernando Torres into form and fitness following the knee surgery in the spring, but the Liverpool forward had not made his mark in the earlier knockout matches at this tournament. In Durban he returned to the substitutes' bench for Spain.

David Villa was pushed into the lone attacker's post and Pedro came into the side as one of the three support strikers. The latter was one of seven Barcelona players in the starting line-up, with three more from Real Madrid. The task of representing the remainder of La Liga fell to Joan Capdevila of Villarreal.

While the dominance of the two principal clubs lacks romance, it does ensure that the members of the line-up are well-acquainted, even if David Villa's switch from Valencia to Camp Nou was only completed recently. Of course, many of the side had also kept company with one another while lifting the Euro 2008 trophy. They had beaten Germany in that final with a goal from Torres.

His initial absence did not appear to blunt Spain in the initial phase of the evening. With six minutes gone, for instance, Pedro had fed Villa for an attempt that was blocked by the goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. At that stage, Germany's ambitions were either very modest or made to appear so as Spain then dictated the terms of the play.

It says much for the expectation where Del Bosque's line-up is concerned that some have been displeased with them regardless of the progress to this occasion. Perhaps the passing had been a little too studied and there was an endeavour to raise the tempo early in the semi-final. Germany, then, were vigilant as they aimed to take the sting out of Spain.

There were moments that would have heartened the manager Joachim Löw after the opening half-hour had been negotiated. The midfielder Piotr Trochowski, introduced for the suspended Thomas Müller, hit a good shot that had to be turned behind by Iker Casillas.

At that stage, Löw's schemes were once more looking well-laid and Spain had been denied the stimulus of an early breakthrough. Much as Del Bosque's men can play with sublime technique the superiority is sometimes echoed only weakly in results. The previous two fixtures in the knockout phase had each been won by a single goal.

There is a precariousness to ambitions based on such fine margins. Having failed to damage Germany, Spain might have been in deep trouble on the verge of the interval. Mesut Ozil broke free and the pursuing Sergio Ramos caught him with a challenge from behind, although the contact had occurred just before the Germany midfielder entered the penalty area.

Spain could not have been content with their efforts. For all the artfulness, the best opening for them had originated with a cross that Andrés Iniesta whipped over treacherously from the right in the 14th minute, but Carles Puyol could not meet it cleanly and the header went over the bar.

The second half opened with a more direct approach from Del Bosque's men. Since this is Spain, nothing coarse was entailed, but the attacking looked more intense and Xabi Alonso got himself into positions for drives that went wide on each occasion. All the same, it scarcely amounted to a reign of terror and busy as Pedro had been the case for Torres, a genuine striker, grew stronger.

If there was pleasure for Spain in that spell it arose from the knowledge that they had pinned down Germany. Indeed, good openings started to appear. Iniesta got possession in the inside-left channel and his cut-back was nearly turned in by Villa. There was more intent and a higher tempo to Spain's work for a period.

The unease of Löw had been apparent in his replacement of the left-back Jérôme Boateng and Trochowski with Marcell Jansen and Toni Kroos respectively. The latter soon had an effect when he volleyed Lukas Podolski's cross, even if the effort was too close to Casillas. This may be a rather new Germany line-up, but the tenacity showed that the traits of its predecessors are preserved.

When the breakthrough for Spain came it took an unlikely form. In the 73rd minute, Xavi's corner kick was met with a thudding header by Puyol from 10 yards and Neuer was powerless to reach it. The impact had been made at last, in a manner that underlined the adaptability of Del Bosque's squad.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 12:06:23 AM |

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