DURBAN, South Africa - They pressured Germany the entire match and peppered its goalkeeper so many times a score seemed inevitable.
Finally, with a mighty swing of his head that sent his long, curly locks flying, Spain’s Carles Puyol got it done.
With the World Cup final in reach – and Queen Sofia cheering from the stands – La Roja came through with their best game yet.
“We’ve shown that in the big moments we can grow even more,” striker David Villa said after Spain’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Germany on Wednesday. “We should have scored more goals, but one from Puyol has put us in the final.”
Spain will play for the World Cup title for the first time, thanks to Puyol’s goal on that powerful header in the second half. The game was a repeat, down to the final score, of the 2008 European Championship final.
European bragging rights are one thing. Being the world champion is something else.
When the final whistle sounded, the Spanish players on the field thrust their arms in the air while the substitutes raced out to join them. Two teammates grabbed Villa, who has scored all but two of Spain’s World Cup goals, and carried him on their shoulders.
In the stands, Spanish fans partied deep into the night, waving flags, banging on drums and singing chorus after chorus of “Ole! Ole! Ole!”
“This is one of the greatest moments for Spain, for us to be in the final of the World Cup, it’s history,” said Villa, who is tied with Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder for the tournament scoring lead at five goals apiece. “And we want to make more history in the final.”
Spain faces the Netherlands on Sunday at Soccer City in Johannesburg, ensuring a first-time champion.
The two teams have never met in the World Cup.
“I am sure the Spanish can win any game,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said, “because they are dominant and it’s hard to contain their attack.”
With all but two members of the starting lineup playing for either Barcelona or Real Madrid, the Spanish play with a seamlessness and fluidity that’s almost intuitive.
Injuries to Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas kept Spain from showing its full flair and polish. Against Germany, however, the Spanish showed they are still very much the team to beat.
After coming oh, so close several times, Xavi swung a corner kick right into the scrum in front of German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in the 73rd minute. With fellow defender and Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique next to him and screening Neuer’s view, Puyol leaped and got the ball.
He headed it with such power that his long curls whipped across his face. Neuer made a dive to his left, but had no chance to stop the ball as it thundered past.
Those Germany counterattacks that were so devastating against England and Argentina never materialized, and the midfield spacing that had been so impressive was almost nonexistent.
The Germans were devastated after the final whistle. This was the three-time champions’ third straight trip to the World Cup semifinals. Yet, like 2006, they are headed for the third-place game.