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Spain edge Germany 1-0 to enter first ever World Cup final

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carles_puyol.jpgIn a game that promised so much, but never really came to life, it was Spain's persistence that got them the winning goal to overpower a young German side in the second semi-final of the FIFA World Cup at the Durban Stadium on Wednesday. With both teams creating very few opportunities on goal, Spain were clearly the better side both in terms of possession and passing and it was through a header from Barcelona skipper Carles Puyol that they finally broke the deadlock in the 73rd minute.

With that win, Spain went through to their first ever final at the FIFA World Cup and with Netherlands too yet to win the World Cup, the tournament is sure to get a first-time champion on Sunday the 11th of July.

Both teams made one change each going into the semi-final - Germany through suspension, while Spain making a tactical / form switch. With Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller, one of Germany's stars of the World Cup suspended for the game, Piotr Trochowski got his first start of the tournament. Vicente Del Bosque meanwhile finally decided to drop the struggling Fernando Torres for the key fixture. instead, picking young Barcelona striker Pedro in a three man frontline alongside David Villa and Andres Iniesta.

Joachim Loew persisted with his favoured 4-2-3-1 with Trochowski occupying the right attacking midfield position while Del Bosque also went with the tried and tested 4-3-3 for Spain, with Pedro starting wide with Villa playing down the middle. The game got off to a cagey start, and even though Spain hogged the football, the first half hour failed to produce anything magical.

Pedro's through ball to Villa in the 6th minute was the first chance of the game but German keeper Manuel Neuer sped off his line to ensure that there were no early shocks. A few minutes later, Iniesta struck a powerful cross in from a corner for Puyol to meet, only for the defender to misdirect his header from six yards out, it was an early warning shot for the Germans, and one they failed to heed. Germany soon responded by getting a corner of their own, thanks to a Trochowski cross which Pique failed to control.

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Lukas Podolski then found himself at the receiving end of a rash tackle from Sergio Ramos, the latter being lucky to have escaped without a booking. Podolski though, soon got back into action and it was once again Trochowski, who gave Germany a sniff through his low drive, tipped behind by Casillas for a corner.

With both sides getting increasingly defensive though, the game went into an even more uneventful passage of play with the only real chance falling Germany's way in the last minute of the half. Mesut Oezil ran thorough on goal after being released by Klose, and just as he looked to unleash a shot, he went down under apparent pressure from Ramos. The referee though, wasn't interested one bit as he waved on to the players to continue play, to the disappointment of the Germans.

Pedro once again looked sharp at the start of the second half, taking on a couple of German defenders before laying the ball to Alonso, whose shot went just wide. Alonso then took another shot, this time from Xavi's pass, as Spain started looking more and more dangerous. Xavi then found Villa, as the golden boot contender went close with a curling shot on goal. Spain should have ideally gone one-up at the hour mark when a goal-mouth scrap ensued following a Pedro shot which was saved by Neuer, only for Iniesta to lay a teasing cross in front of the German goal, inches in front of Villa's outstretched boot.

Loew meanwhile, made some tactical changes with Germany struggling to put any sort of sustained pressure, getting in Toni Kroos and Marcell Jansen in place of Trochowski and Jerome Boateng respectively. Ramos collided with Podolski in the Germany box trying to reach a cross from Alonso, but penalty claims were yet again rightly waived off by the referee. Germany's best chance of the game then fell to Kroos, who should have done much better than fire his first time volley straight at Casillas with the kind of space he had.

Spain's persistence finally paid off when some good work from Iniesta got them a set-piece after 73 minutes. Xavi's cross from a corner was met perfectly by Puyol, who rose high to beat Neuer and head the ball home. Within minutes, Loew got Mario Gomez on the pitch for Sami Khedira as Germany looked to make the most of the final few minutes left to salvage their campaign.

Del Bosque in turn, gave Torres a look-in in place of David Villa, who had been rather unimpressive on the day without the big man upfront to play off. As Germany pushed ahead without much success, Pedro could have clinched the game for Spain when he was played through by a delightful pass from Xavi. It was two on one at the back as Pedro with ball at his feet had Torres in acres on space on his left, but the young Catalan failed to pass the ball to Torres, opting to go for glory himself. The chance was snuffed out leaving Torres, and most of the Spain side in utter disbelief. Spain were left not to rue that opportunity as they held on to their lead in the final few minutes without much ado, and the sound of the final whistle set off delirium on the Spanish bench.

Though they have not been as impressive as one thought they would be, Del Bosque's men have yet managed to record their country's best run at the World Cup and are now, just a step away from achieving greatness. The Germans, on the contrary, came into the game with expectations sky high and would definitely be immensely disappointed by not just the defeat, but more so by the fact that they played nothing like their best. Loew's team though, has by far been the most entertaining team in South Africa, and the young side will without doubt be a force to reckon with; come Brazil 2014! Before they leave South Africa there is the small matter of the third-fourth place play-off on Saturday as Miroslav Klose gets one more opportunity to equal or break Ronaldo's record of the most goals in the history of the World Cup finals as Germany meet Uruguay.

The day though undoubtedly belongs to Spain, who will take on the Netherlands the following day in what promises to be a highly technical finale.

The Teams:

Germany: Neuer (GK), Friedrich, Mertesacker, Boateng (Jansen 52'), Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Khedira (Gomez 80'), Klose, Ozil, Podolski, Trochowski (Kroos 62').

Spain: Casillas (GK), Puyol, Pique, Capdevila, Ramos, Busquets, Alonso (Marchena 93'), Xavi, Iniesta, Villa (Torres 81'), Pedro (Silva 86').

Final Scoreline: Germany 0-1 Spain (Puyol 73')

Also Read: Netherlands 3-2 Uruguay

File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel

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