Germany 0 Spain 1

Germany: Neuer; Lahm, Mertesacker, Friedrich, Boateng (Jansen 52); Schweinsteiger, Khedira (Gomez 80); Trochowski (Kroos 62), Ozil, Podolski; Klose

Spain: Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets, Alonso (Marchena 90); Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro (Silva 85); Villa (Torres 81)

A beautiful, mesmerising game in Durban this evening was won by Spain who now progress to their first ever World Cup final thanks to Carlos Puyol’s second-half header. This was a match which showcased some of the finest defending and possession football the 2010 World Cup has seen, Vicente Del Bosque’s team controlling the game and yet having to play to their full capacity to break down Joachim Low’s resolute German side. It was a truly enthralling spectacle.

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The line-ups

There were, as was widely expected, changes on both sides with Piotr Trochowski coming in for the suspended Thomas Muller and Fernando Torres being dropped to be replaced by Pedro.

Trochowski, despite not being the most dynamic player going forward, was deployed on the right side of Germany’s 4-2-3-1 and provided good defensive cover for Philipp Lahm, whilst Pedro took up a wide position for Spain in their own interpretation of 4-2-3-1, switching flanks with Andres Iniesta at regular intervals.

Many of Spain’s dangerous early forays into German territory came as a result of Iniesta’s work on the right hand side where he was matched up against the shaky Jerome Boateng who struggled with the movement and skill on the ball of the Barcelona midfielder.

Indeed, when the Manchester City defender was moved across to right-back Iniesta followed him and continued to cause him problems, eventually leading to his replacement by Marcell Jansen just minutes into the second half.

Although Spain had occasional success on the flanks, their best work – both with and without the ball – was done, as it so often is, in the centre of the field. Xavi and Sergio Busquets were particularly impressive, achieving pass completion rates of 86% and 92% respectively and keeping the ball away from the opposition for as long as possible. Pedro also had an excellent game, often cutting inside in an attempt to provide passes for David Villa and demonstrating impressive vision and awareness in doing so.

As Sid Lowe has said in the past, “tiki-taka” – as it has come to be known – is as much a defensive tactic as it is an attacking one. Keep the ball and the opposition can’t score, it’s as simple as that.

When Spain didn’t have the ball (49% of the time tonight, a much larger portion of the game than usual) they were superbly efficient at pressing high up the field and squeezing the spaces into which the Germans looked to get the ball. Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Iniesta all worked extremely hard to reduce the amount of time the German midfield had on the ball, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and, perhaps most notably of all, Mesut Ozil, all being throughly negated going forward.

Where Ozil had enjoyed the time and space to play passes into the feet of his forwards in his country’s run to the semi-finals, he tonight found himself starved of the ball for much of the game and pressured off it when he did eventually have possession.

Low’s team were better in the defensive phase, Schweinsteiger and Khedira keeping Villa on the periphery for long periods by shutting off the supply, with Trochowski and Lukas Podolski doing well to keep Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila more subdued than they had been previously in the tournament. However, despite doing a good job without the ball, Germany found themselves so focused on defence that they were strung out and incoherent going forward, Miroslav Klose often isolated and outnumbered in attack.

The winning goal may have come via a thumping Carlos Puyol header from a basic set-piece, but this was an intricate and delicate game between two well-balanced teams. Spain deserved their win and will go into the final against Holland as favourites, but Germany should be applauded for their excellent showing at this tournament, outdoing the low expectations many had of the team. Low’s side can surely look forward to bigger and better things in the years to come with what is a relatively young and supremely talented group of players.

What is for sure is that, come Sunday night, we will have new world champions, with neither Holland or Spain having won the title before in their rich footballing histories. It promises to be a fascinating match-up in Soccer City.