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Spain reach World Cup final

Spanish players celebrate after Carles Puyol gave them the lead Keystone

The Swiss defeated them – the Germans couldn’t. Spain have beaten Germany 1-0 in the second football World Cup semifinal in South Africa.

An unstoppable header from Carles Puyol in the 73rd minute means Spain will meet the Netherlands in Sunday’s final at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium. Germany will play Uruguay for third place on Saturday in Port Elizabeth.

The victory – predicted by Paul the psychic octopus, who continues his 100 per cent record in this tournament (see link) – also means the final will be the first time two teams that have never won the World Cup play each other since 1978.

Wednesday’s match at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban was a reprise of the 2008 European Championship final in Vienna, which Spain also won 1-0. Six players from each team’s line-up also started that final.

Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque selected David Villa as a lone striker with Pedro Rodriguez taking the struggling Fernando Torres’s place.

Torres scored the winning goal in the 2008 final – the most recent meeting between the teams – but he watched the start of the match from the bench for the first time since the loss to Switzerland in Spain’s opening group match.

Spain’s starting line-up comprised seven Barcelona players, including Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Pedro.

Germany may have outscored opponents 13-2 and eliminated England and Argentina to reach the last four, but they were without suspended winger Thomas Müller, who has scored four goals. Coach Joachim Löw replaced Müller with Piotr Trochowski.

Playmaker Mesut Ozil led the three-time champions in a midfield that also contained Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Lukas Podolski.

Power header

The two teams were locked at 0-0 at halftime, with the Spaniards having the best chance and dominating possession.

David Villa’s close-range shot from a pass by Pedro Rodriguez was blocked by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in the sixth minute.

Trochowski had Germany’s only opportunity, with a long-distance shot in the 32nd minute that was saved by a diving Iker Casillas.

Spain – the very slight favourites going into the match – controlled the pace with their trademark passing game as Germany waited for counterattacks.

Miroslav Klose, who needs one more goal to draw level with former Brazil striker Ronaldo’s record 15 on the all-time World Cup list, was never given the space to score his fifth goal of the tournament.

Spain needed 73 minutes to break the deadlock, when Puyol got his head to a Xavi Hernandez corner and from six metres powered the ball past a helpless Neuer.

Spanish flair

Spain had rediscovered their flair in a victory that not only put them into the World Cup final but showed why the European champions are one of the most feared teams in football.

They have lost only two games since November 2006 – most recently against Switzerland.

“The group deserves this but we want more,” said David Villa, who is tied with Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder for the tournament scoring lead with five goals each. “We are happy to be in the final, that was our objective, but now we want to be champions.”

For their part, Germany missed the attacking thrust of Thomas Müller, creating few chances.

Joachim Löw was unable to find a winning strategy similar to the game plans that sank England and Argentina.

The Germans were unable to force Spain into making mistakes, which is what Löw had said would be the way to beat the European champions.

Swiss support

Earlier in the day the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, based in Zurich, was amazed at how popular the German team was among Swiss fans.

Some 250,000 Germans live in Switzerland, most in well-paid management positions and most living in Zurich. These comfortably outnumber Switzerland’s 65,000-strong Spanish community.

In the past, many Swiss weren’t exactly welcoming to their neighbours from the “big canton”, reckoning they were too cocky and too loud (in High German to make things worse!) and there were frequent mutterings about Swiss jobs being taken by Germans.

Those days are gone – for the time being anyway. The first rule of Swiss football fans – “anyone but Germany” – has been rewritten in South Africa. German goals are now received in Zurich bars with applause rather than swearing, and children can be seen waving black, red and gold flags.

“The most extraordinary thing is that all of a sudden many Swiss are wearing the German strip,” the paper said, pointing out that in Zurich for the first time more German tops had been sold than Spanish or Italian ones.

On Wednesday, however, it was Switzerland’s 65,000 Spaniards who were driving around, honking horns and waving flags – and possibly giving calamari the night off.

Thomas Stephens,

Germany: Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Arne Friedrich, Per Mertesacker, Jerome Boateng (Marcell Jansen, 52nd); Sami Khedira (Mario Gomez, 81st), Bastian Schweinsteiger, Piotr Trochowski (Toni Kroos, 62nd), Mesut Ozil; Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose.

Spain: Iker Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila; Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso (Carlos Marchena, 90th, injury time), Andres Iniesta, Xavi; Pedro (David Silva, 86th), David Villa (Fernando Torres, 81st).

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR