Steven Beacom: Imperious Spain have one final test to pass
It was a joy to watch. Football to make you sit back and admire. A wonderful exhibition of passing and moving.
And moving and passing.
The magicians in the Spanish midfield were bewitching and, in spells, hypnotic.
But when you are playing the well drilled Germans, sometimes you need more than that, like the element of surprise.
And up popped a no nonsense centre back to provide it, sending Spain into dreamland and into their first World Cup final.
Carles Puyol was the unlikely hero for the Spanish last night, as they booked their place in Sunday’s Johannesburg decider against Holland thanks to a richly deserved 1-0 victory.
Joachim Low’s men knew that they would be out passed in last night’s fascinating semi-final in Durban, but not for one second did they think they would be outclassed from a set piece.
On 73 minutes, though, that’s exactly what happened when Xavi’s perfectly delivered corner was met in a crowded box by soaring Barcelona defender Puyol. His bullet header rocketed into the net to set up a day of destiny with the Dutch.
Puyol actually made his international debut against Holland a decade ago. Ten years on, the 32-year-old will face them again in the biggest game of all.
To think that Spain started this tournament with a 1-0 defeat to a pretty average Switzerland side in the group stages.
Previous Spanish teams would have wilted after a result like that. The footballing history of the country is littered with World Cup matches where the
Spanish fell apart when the going got tough.
Not this lot.
They have character to go with all that class.
They have solidity and spirit to compliment the skill and speed. In my book they are the best team on the planet and last night for the first time in the competition they showed it.
Maybe they are just warming up. Holland be warned.
The Dutch wanted to face old rivals Germany in the final.
But had Low’s men somehow managed to triumph, it would have been an injustice.
They have given so much to this competition, but they weren’t good enough against Spain.
It’s all over for them now.
Yes, they have another match — the ridiculous third/fourth place play-off against Uruguay on Saturday — but that will matter little.
The Germans came to South Africa to go all the way and after
humiliating England and hammering Argentina, Joachim Low’s vibrant, confident young side looked capable of achieving that ambition.
Spain, though, proved a different proposition.
Germany’s problem was that they couldn’t get the ball.
Possession isn’t just nine tenths of the law in Spain, it means everything to them. To Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso the ball is a treasured possession to be treated with care and caressed like the woman of their dreams.
As the minutes ticked by these artists became more loving, painting pretty pictures on the pitch, yet they still couldn’t score.
Everything but the goal, until King Carles broke German hearts.
In the first half Puyol had headed wildly over after a wicked cross from Iniesta and before that David Villa, normally so lethal, saw his effort blocked by German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer after a sublime through ball from the impressive Pedro, who had come into the side for Fernando Torres.
In the second period, with the tempo well and truly upped, it seemed as though all of Spain’s attacking players were having pot shots at goal, mostly after sensational passages of play.
At 0-0 there was always the possibility that Germany could nick the opening goal and, after a trademark break, they nearly did with Iker Casillas making a smart stop to deny substitute Toni Kroos. Had the chance fallen to Miroslav Klose, Germany may now be savouring Sunday‘s showdown.
It didn’t and Puyol had the final say.
The pass masters are there. Believe me, they are going to be tough to beat.