Spain still possess all the trump cards

Last Updated: Jul 08, 2010, 11:02 AM IST

Durban: Spain booked their place in their first World Cup final on Wednesday with a display of cool-headed experience, patience, tactical nous and skill that ultimately proved too much for a young German side.

The 1-0 semi-final victory at the Moses Mabhida stadium was secured by the head of central defender Carles Puyol in the 73rd minute but built on a foundation of accurate passing, sublime movement and pressure on the ball from the European champions.

Germany`s youngest World Cup squad in three quarters of a century -- they are around 25 on average -- had lit up the tournament with fine attacking play and a hatful of goals but never really got going as nerves and the Spanish defence nullified their threat.

Defensive midfield bastion Bastian Schweinsteiger, man of the match in the 4-0 quarter-final victory over Argentina, was reduced to chasing shadows for much of the game as Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Pedro, and Andres Iniesta moved the ball around him.

As adept as the German attackers had shown themselves to be at switching the point of attack in previous games, Spain are the past masters at it and pressed forward, probing for weaknesses and gaps in the defence.

From the start they attacked Germany`s least experienced defender. Left back Jerome Boateng was playing in just his ninth international and down his flank came Pedro and Spain`s right back Sergio Ramos to great effect.

When they did manage to counter-attack, the nervous German passing was loose and inaccurate and more often than not they handed the ball back to the Spanish, who re-launched their assault.

Mesut Ozil, the architect of Germany`s 4-0 drubbing of Australia at this same stadium in their World Cup opener, looked tired while the suspended Thomas Mueller`s pace and hard work down the right was clearly missed.

After Xabi Alonso had put two long-range efforts outside either post in a couple of minutes just after the break, German coach Joachim Loew withdrew Boateng and replaced him with the more attack-minded Marcell Jansen.

The Spanish immediately switched the focus of their attack to Philipp Lahm`s right flank and it proved equally effective in pegging the Germans back on defensive duties.

The only thing missing from the Spanish game -- as has been the case for so much of the tournament -- was the final touch, but patience has also been a virtue for this most technically adept of teams.

That ultimately the breakthrough came not from a deft Alonso flick, a bit of Iniesta magic or a David Villa strike but from a central defender`s header at a set piece can only add to the list of offensive threats the Dutch will be pondering ahead of Sunday`s final in Johannesburg.

Bureau Report