DURBAN - The 2010 World Cup will see a first-time champion crowned.
Spain guaranteed a new name on the trophy with a 1-0 win over Germany. It will meet The Netherlands in the final Sunday in Johannesburg. It is the first final for Spain while the Netherlands will be in its third final, having lost the two previous times.
Spain was a pre-tournament favourite, but not many would have believed it would make it considering how inconsistently it played. When Spain drew Germany in the semifinal, most believed the young German side, a side that had played the best football of the World Cup, would prevail.
But the defending European champions showed the kind of toughness they have developed over the past few years. It's the toughness that was missing in years past when Spain would field the most talented teams but wind up going home with nothing to show for it.
Even the most talented team in the world cannot score without the ball and Spain simply refused to let Germany hold the ball for any significant amount of time. Spain played as if the ball were on a string. The few times Germany was aggressive enough to challenge, Spain would pull the string and the ball would go elsewhere.
In the end, it was clear which was the better team.
"We've been together for six or seven weeks as a team. They've been together two or three years and it showed. They were better. They deserved to win," said German coach Joachim Loew.
The battle of the young guns in the German midfield led by Sebastian Schweinstieger against the veteran Spanish led by a magnificent Andres Iniesta was never a battle at all. It was a surrender. Germany couldn't get the ball and when they did, they couldn't hold it.
"They're just such good footballers, and that showed up our current limitations today," said Loew. "They stifled us in certain areas, and we were never able to break free. Their passing game is so good, you spend practically all your time just chasing the ball. We were unable to win possession in the key areas that would have allowed us to switch from defence to attack at speed."
To make it even simpler, Germany had no answer to the fury which was La Furia Roja. Yet it took 73 minutes for Spain to come through with the winner and it came from centre back Carles Puyol, an unlikely candidate.
It came off a corner. Puyol met the ball about 14 metres from net. His header was powerful and unstoppable. It was a deserved winner.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque made a touch decision and placed struggled Fernando Torres on the bench. He replaced him with Pedro.
Pedro gave Spain something Torres hasn't . . . more movement with and without the ball. Pedro was active and it gave Germany someone else to worry about other than David Villa.
"You're always gutted when you lose a semi-final," said German defender Philipp Lahm. "We're very, very disappointed. We set our sights high, but it's not worked out for us. We didn't play well, especially in the first half, and we lacked the courage of our convictions going forward."
The Germans were able to get this far by playing deadly attacking football. On this night, they generated only one clear scoring chance. The Spain that won on this night was clearly a team of great confidence and determination. It played as it did during its run to the European championship two years ago.
"We haven't achieved anything like this before but this team deserve everything that comes our way," Villa said. "It's not easy to get this far but we're hungry for more and we couldn't be happier at reaching the final. That's what we came here for and now we want to go out and win it."
Judging by how the Spaniards mastered a team that looked as if it had no equal in this tournament, it's going to take something special to stop them.