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World Cup 2010: Spain scores, advances to finals

1-0 win over Germany shows Spanish team's mastery of the beautiful game.

Spanish player Carles Pujol heads ball
Spain's defender Carles Puyol, right, heads the ball to score against Germany during their 2010 World Cup semifinal football match on July 7, 2010. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

DURBAN, South Africa – And the underachievers did it. 

Spain, a country that has long regaled the world with beautiful football, has finally reached a World Cup final after defeating 1-0 a German scoring machine that ran out of ammunition.

Spain’s victory, combined with that of the Netherlands over Uruguay Tuesday, ensures that South Africa will crown a brand-new world champion Sunday when these two teams face off in the tournament’s last encounter.

The all European final also means that for the first time in World Cup history a European side will triumph outside of Europe. Until this year, only South American teams had been able to win the Cup outside of their continent.

Spain controlled much of the game Wednesday, but as has often been the case during this tournament it struggled to translate its domination into advantage on the scoreboard and again advanced on the smallest of margins. Only late in the match did the Spaniards surge ahead on a powerful header from defender Carles Puyol.

For Spain, Wednesday’s victory is another decisive step in the team’s transformation from being one of soccer’s worst chokers to what is now close to an Invincible Armada. The last time Spain had made it to the last four in the World Cup before this year was 1950, but after becoming European champions two years ago, the Spaniards now have the opportunity to clinch their first World Cup.

“These past two or three years, they’ve been consistently good,” said German coach Joachim Löw after the game. “And all these recent matches have demonstrated that they are very hard to beat.”

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This World Cup had first been deemed an African one by virtue of hosts South Africa and a record five other African teams expected to do well on home soil.

But then it seemed South America had a stranglehold on this Cup tournament when all five of its teams qualified for the second round. Now with three out of four semifinalists and the two finalists, Europe is the big winner of this first World Cup in Africa.

Why that is the case is a matter of debate, but Japanese coach Takeshi Okada gave a hint when he said part of his team’s success — Japan’s second-round appearance is its best showing in a World Cup outside of Japan — was due to South Africa’s frigid temperatures.

"We fully recognized that the FIFA World Cup in South Africa was in the wintertime so we could keep running," Okada said. "The cool weather has been a good environment for us."