Madrid: Spain`s progress to their first World Cup final was seen by local media on Thursday as another vindication of their elegant brand of attacking football.
Their 1-0 victory over Germany, who had been considered the most impressive side in South Africa to date, had Spanish newspapers praising Vicente del Bosque`s side and talking up their prospects for Sunday`s showdown against Netherlands.
"The best in the world (and on Sunday the champions of the world)" sports daily Marca blared from their wraparound front page over a photo of the players celebrating Carles Puyol`s winning headed goal in Wednesday`s match in Durban.
El Pais wrote: "If football is art and heroism, Spain is the team to follow. In their game against a fearsome and dazzling Germany they had everything, they were sublime in their play and knew to roll up their sleeves when required."
It was the manner of the victory, Spain`s best performance in the tournament so far, that was most commented on.
"Spain didn`t just win, they put on an exhibition, they played with evening suits on," wrote a daily.
"Once upon a time it was the Brazil team of 1970. Soon it will be Spain 2010 who will be talked about as the ultimate in a sport converted into one of the beautiful arts by the likes of Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta, (Xabi) Alonso and the other magicians."
Spain`s asphyxiating grip on the game may have been down to their ball-playing `artists` in midfield but it was the shaggy-haired, old warhorse Puyol who was the centre of attention in the papers and on the television news.
The Barcelona centre back, 32, is better known for his last-ditch tackles, flailing locks and never-say-die spirit than for his scoring prowess. He had only netted twice in 88 internationals before popping up with Wednesday`s vital goal.
"Was it Michael Jordan jumping near the penalty spot... or was it superman? No it was simply Puyol, with springs in his calves, and a cape of invincibility." said El Mundo.
Spanish left back Joan Capdevila told reporters: "It was time a defender scored a goal. I`m all for him shaving his head if we win the World Cup. If we win I`m going to try (to convince him)."
Del Bosque`s bold decision to leave out striker Fernando Torres and play winger Pedro instead had been a hot topic of conversation among fans before the kickoff but it was widely praised as an astute move.
"Del Bosque knew that he had to do something to surprise the Germans yesterday, and he did it. He surprised them and the whole world," a sports daily wrote.
Images of fans decked in red and gold, celebrating in bars, on the streets and in squares around the country on Wednesday night, filled the papers.
"Spain is one big party," wrote sports daily AS. "None of us have experienced anything like this not even the oldest of the old. It`s the first time the Spanish national team is going to play the final of a World Cup."
"The whole country has been touched by the contagious enthusiasm of this group of players, the best we have ever seen. (After Sunday) it could be yet even greater."