World Cup Live: Germany vs. Spain

With the hardened, entrenched word “underachiever” at last pried from its reputation and flung into its past, Spain systematically topped Germany on Wednesday night in Durban and went streaming into the glamorous soccer nation’s first-ever World Cup final. 

La Furia Roja will oppose the Netherlands on Sunday night because it habitually hogged the ball from a German attack that had splurged for 13 goals, because the humble central defender Carles Puyol scored a rare goal on a header off a corner in the 73rd minute, and because it clearly possesses a collective gut much sturdier than reputed.

In tense, thick knockout-round wins over Portugal, Paraguay and Germany – all 1-0 finishes – Spain displayed a patience noteworthy for a side that prefers to score and score gorgeously. Averting frustration, it scored finally in the 63rd, 83rd and 73rd minutes of those matches and gave itself a chance to become the first national team since West Germany in 1972-74 to win a European Championship and a World Cup in succession.

Against Germany, Spain’s goal finally came after it spent the match doing precisely what manager Vicente del Bosque intended, using its knack for ground passing and possession to keep the ball from a Germany which had scored four times on Australia, four times on England and four times on Argentina in a dazzling showing last Saturday. After a first half with only one real chance on goal – Spain’s main scorer David Villa up close against German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who saved adroitly – the Spanish heightened their assault pretty much right out of the gate in the second half, even if Germany did render Villa mostly muffled.

This figured to lend them either a winning goal or a profound heartbreak, but for once in Spain’s tortured World Cup history, the former came. It came shortly after Xabi Alonso’s two reasonably clear shots from afar blasted wide of the mark, and it came just after Andres Iniesta worked one of his trademark velvet possessions of the left edge of the box.

Working his way down to the end line there, Iniesta tried a cross against the gathering German defense, ricocheting the ball off one of the defenders to set up a corner from the left. Xavi took that corner, and it sailed and curled above the wall of players until it found the last guy lunging behind the masses, Puyol, with his amply haired head and his 32 years of age. Puyol may have scored only 11 goals in his life playing for Barcelona and Spain, and only two goals in 88 previous caps for Spain, but this time the defender showed his aerial skills and shipped a header above the reacting throng and into the back right corner of the goal, well out of Neuer’s lurching reach.

From there, Spain merely had to hold on for 17 minutes plus three of added time, and while Germany’s capable surges lent the match fleeting bits of suspense, the Germans never did produce a shot that asked a lot of Iker Casillas, the Spanish goalkeeper. Germany’s mandatory desperation did, however, allow for some stirring Spanish counter-attacks, one of which featured an 82nd-minute run from Pedro, the 22-year-old who had started for the Euro 2008 and Liverpool star Fernando Torres. Sensing a clincher and World Cup glory, however, Pedro evidently didn’t even notice that as he battled Arne Friedrich along his way, Torres lurked all lonely to his left in the box, having come on as a 80th-minute substitute after struggling across four matches as a starter because he recovers from two knee surgeries.

Pedro lost possession, then apologized to Torres, then came off perhaps as penance, but Spain did hold on and did create yet another upending in the World Cup process. It had arrived in early June as a co-favorite (with Brazil) and had quickly lost to Switzerland to foment angst at home, but it had clawed its way through to its first modern World Cup semifinal to find itself a popular underdog against a suddenly scorching Germany. Yet it had won that, too, because it has a wealth of talent on the ball but also, by now, a sturdy gut.



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