Spain Slips Past Germany To Reach World Cup Final

Spain's Carles Puyol i i

Spain's Carles Puyol (center, with long hair) scores the game's only goal. AP hide caption

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Spain's Carles Puyol

Spain's Carles Puyol (center, with long hair) scores the game's only goal.

AP

Clinging to a tournament-long formula of precise passing, ball control, tight defense and a timely second-half goal, Spain picked apart Germany 1-0 Wednesday to reach Sunday's World Cup final against the Netherlands.

Defender Carles Puyol soared above a line of players braced for a corner kick and scored with a header in the 73rd minute of play to send the Spaniards to their first-ever World Cup final.

The match between the Spanish and the Dutch also ensures a first-time champion. The Dutch, who beat Uruguay on Tuesday night, have lost in their only two trips to the final. The two teams have never met in the World Cup.

  • Joan Capdevila of Spain celebrates as teammate Carles Puyol scores the opening goal past Manuel Neuer of Germany during the semifinal match between Germany and Spain.
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    Joan Capdevila of Spain celebrates as teammate Carles Puyol scores the opening goal past Manuel Neuer of Germany during the semifinal match between Germany and Spain.
    Michael Steele/Getty Images
  • Members of the team from Spain celebrate the opening goal scored by Carles Puyol. Spain beat Germany 1-0.
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    Members of the team from Spain celebrate the opening goal scored by Carles Puyol. Spain beat Germany 1-0.
    Joern Pollex/Getty Images
  • Uruguay's goalkeeper Fernando Muslera is beaten by Netherlands midfielder Wesley Sneijder (not shown) during their semifinal match.
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    Uruguay's goalkeeper Fernando Muslera is beaten by Netherlands midfielder Wesley Sneijder (not shown) during their semifinal match.
    Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images
  • Members of the Uruguay and Netherlands teams, including Netherlands' Joris Mathijsen (center left) and Uruguay's Diego Godin (center right), scuffle at the end of the match.
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    Members of the Uruguay and Netherlands teams, including Netherlands' Joris Mathijsen (center left) and Uruguay's Diego Godin (center right), scuffle at the end of the match.
    Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
  • Netherlands supporters celebrate their team's 3-2 win over Uruguay to advance to the finals.
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    Netherlands supporters celebrate their team's 3-2 win over Uruguay to advance to the finals.
    Schalk van Zuydam/AP
  • Midfielder Wesley Sneijder (center) scores the Netherlands' second goal during the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal match between the Netherlands and Brazil.
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    Midfielder Wesley Sneijder (center) scores the Netherlands' second goal during the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal match between the Netherlands and Brazil.
    Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images
  • Brazil supporters react as a Netherlands fan celebrates following the quarterfinal match between the Netherlands and Brazil. Netherlands defeated Brazil 2-1.
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    Brazil supporters react as a Netherlands fan celebrates following the quarterfinal match between the Netherlands and Brazil. Netherlands defeated Brazil 2-1.
    Andre Penner/AP
  • Uruguay's striker Luis Suarez (center) stops the ball with his hands, leading to a red card and a penalty kick for Ghana during quarterfinal action between Uruguay and Ghana.
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    Uruguay's striker Luis Suarez (center) stops the ball with his hands, leading to a red card and a penalty kick for Ghana during quarterfinal action between Uruguay and Ghana.
    Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images
  • Players for Uruguay (left) and Ghana line up during the penalty shootout. Uruguay reached the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1970 after beating Ghana 4-2 on penalty shots.
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    Players for Uruguay (left) and Ghana line up during the penalty shootout. Uruguay reached the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1970 after beating Ghana 4-2 on penalty shots.
    Fernando Vergara/AP
  • Ghana's Dominic Adiyiah fails to score on a shootout against Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
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    Ghana's Dominic Adiyiah fails to score on a shootout against Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
    Luca Bruno/AP
  • Germany's striker Miroslav Klose celebrates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the quarterfinal match against Argentina.
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    Germany's striker Miroslav Klose celebrates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the quarterfinal match against Argentina.
    John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
  • Argentina's defender Nicolas Burdisso (right) reacts with defeat after Germany scored its fourth goal.
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    Argentina's defender Nicolas Burdisso (right) reacts with defeat after Germany scored its fourth goal.
    Francois-Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty Images
  • Spain's striker David Villa (fifth from right) scores a goal during the quarterfinal match with Paraguay.
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    Spain's striker David Villa (fifth from right) scores a goal during the quarterfinal match with Paraguay.
    Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images
  • Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo is comforted by goalkeeper Justo Villar (right) following their 1-0 loss to Spain.
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    Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo is comforted by goalkeeper Justo Villar (right) following their 1-0 loss to Spain.
    Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP

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It was a bleak rerun for the Germans, who lost the 2008 European championship to Spain by the same score. And that match broke a 44-year major title drought for Spain.

Germany will face Uruguay in a consolation match for third place.

When the final whistle sounded, the Spanish players on the field thrust their arms in the air while the substitutes raced onto the field. Their smiles were so bright they could be seen all the way to the top of the stadium in Durban, their roars of elation almost loud enough to drown out the blare of those vuvuzelas.

For Germany, it's yet another disappointment. The three-time champs were making their third straight trip to the World Cup semifinals. Yet just like in 2006, they are headed for the third-place game.

The Germans retooled their team after the Euros loss in Vienna, bringing in youngsters such as Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira and goal-scoring machine Thomas Mueller, who was suspended after picking up a second yellow card in the quarters. But the Germans looked as if they were back in Vienna for much of the night, allowing big, bad Spain to dominate again.

Captain Philipp Lahm was in tears as he watched Spain celebrate. Bastian Schweinsteiger was on his knees for several minutes, and not even a consoling pat on the back from Puyol helped.

The Germans lost to a great team.

Spain has been the best in Europe — all the world, really — for much of the past four years. It's lost all of two games since November 2006, one a shocker to Switzerland in the group-stage opener, and that longevity makes for seamless and fluid play that is usually breathtaking.

Injuries had taken a toll on the Spanish in South Africa, and they didn't have anywhere near their usual polish. Fernando Torres, who can be devastating offensively, is still struggling to recover from knee surgery in April, and was dropped from the starting lineup Wednesday night. Cesc Fabregas played all of two games before the World Cup after breaking a bone in his leg in March.

But with the World Cup title so close — not to mention Queen Sofia watching — the Spanish came through with their best game yet.

"We worked hard to get here, and now we have made the final," Villa said. "It's a great thing."

Spain dominated possession the entire game, and it peppered German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer so many times it seemed inevitable the Spanish would eventually score.

Finally, they did, setting off celebrations from Durban to Madrid.

Xavi swung a corner kick right into the scrum in front of Neuer in the 73rd minute. With fellow defender — and Barcelona teammate — Gerard Pique next to him and screening Neuer's view, Puyol leaped up and got the ball. He gave one mighty swing of his head, his long curls flying. Neuer dove to his left, but had no chance to stop the ball as it thundered into the net.

The Spanish players gathered for a group hug at the edge of the box, bouncing up and down and rubbing each other's heads as Lukas Podolski barked at his teammates in frustration.

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