JOHANNESBURG, July 7 – European champions Spain reached a first World Cup final on Wednesday when veteran defender Carles Puyol headed the only goal to beat Germany 1-0 and set up a Sunday night Soccer City title clash against Holland.
Barcelona centre-back Puyol powered home a header from 10 yards from Xavi’s corner 17 minutes from time in Durban to send Spain into the final.
Holland, twice runners-up, reached the title showdown by beating Uruguay 3-2 in Cape Town on Tuesday.
"I won’t single out individual players. I think all of them were extraordinary," said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque.
"But we have to be careful, there is still one match to play. We know all about Dutch football and it will be a very difficult final."
Three-time champions Germany must now pick themselves up for Saturday’s third-place play-off against Uruguay in Port Elizabeth.
"Compliments to Spain," said Germany coach Joachim Loew. "I believe they will be the world champions, they have been the best for the last two or three years.
"They played well, they pushed us to our limits."
Del Bosque sprung a surprise by dropping out-of-form Liverpool forward Fernando Torres, who has yet to score at the finals, and replacing him with Barcelona starlet Pedro.
Spain should have gone ahead on 14 minutes after a cleverly worked corner routine left Andres Iniesta free to cross from the right, but Puyol got too much purchase on his diving header and sent the ball over the bar.
Germany, playing without the suspended Thomas Mueller, struggled to find their rhythm against Spain’s stylish, intricate passing game but Loew’s team, who had knocked out England and Argentina on the way to the last four, spurned a good chance to take the lead in the 69th minute.
Substitute Toni Kroos arrived unmarked at the back post to meet Lukas Podolski’s cross but his finish was weak and straight at Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Then came Puyol’s great leap to propel Spain into the final.
Spain had several chances on the counter-attack late on but Pedro squandered the best of those as he tried to turn Arne Friedrich one time too many instead of squaring to the unmarked substitute Torres.
Meanwhile, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk reacted to his team’s 3-2 semi-final win over Uruguay by giving his players two days off before the squad hold their final training session on Saturday.
Netherlands entered the World Cup as ‘dark horses’ rather than among the favourites because of repeated failures since finishing runners-up to hosts West Germany and Argentina in successive 1970s finals.
But as Dutch supporters painted Cape Town orange — the team colours — in post-match celebrations, van Marwijk insisted his side must lift the trophy if they want to write themselves into football history.
"It is quite something we have achieved after 32 years, but we are not there yet and there is one more match to look forward to," he stressed.
The former Feyenoord coach has instilled a strong team spirit into his squad by removing any hint of arrogance and insists his team think only of their next game.
"What happened before my time, with all due respect, I do not look at it," said the white-haired 58-year-old, who replaced Marco van Basten after the 2008 European Championship.
"I do things my way, we play good football and sometimes beautiful football, but in the past we started winning and got over-confident. I try to tell my players there will always be a next match."