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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.

This World Cup is the first one to be held in winter temperatures since 1978 when it took place in Argentina. Like Japan, teams such as Germany and the Netherlands base much of their game on physical running and thrive in colder temperatures.

Except for a surprise defeat to Serbia in the group stage, Germany had been firing on all cylinders and hammered both England and Argentina, the magnitude of which hadn’t been seen in decades.

The team's hopes seemed to have taken a fatal blow just before the start of the tournament when emblematic captain Michael Ballack was ruled out because of an ankle injury, but his absence proved a blessing in disguise for the Germans. Young players that might have suffered from Ballack’s overpowering presence stepped up to the fore with spectacular results, prompting former German player Bernd Schuster to call Ballack’s accident a “stroke of good luck” for the German team.

Spain, on the other hand, had carried superstar Fernando Torres as a burden throughout the tournament. The Liverpool striker, who buried Germany’s hopes with his lone goal in the final of the Euro 2008, has yet to score in this World Cup, and Spain has seemed to play a lot better every time he was substituted. Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque finally came to this realization ahead of Wednesday’s clash, and Torres started the semifinal on the bench for the first time in the tournament, replaced by Barcelona’s Pedro.

The first half saw Spain do what Spain does best: retain possession of the ball and move it across the field through accurate, short, passes. Germany also stuck to the swift counterattacking moves that had served it well, but it failed to repeat the early scores of previous games.

One of the most entertaining moves of the first 45 minutes remained the chase two security guards gave to an intruding spectator and his red vuvuzela.

The second half proposed more of the same, but with more urgency. Both teams created several clear scoring chances, which didn’t become goals only because of the strikers’ inaccuracy or the goalkeepers’ reflexes. And since strikers couldn’t find the target, a central defender decided to go for it.

Off a corner kick from Xavi at the 73rd minute, Puyol leaped high above the German defense, his mane of brown locks flew haphazardly, but he headed the ball decisively beyond German keeper Manuel Neuer’s left.

Germany’s playmaker, Bastian Schweinsteiger, cursed, and the Germans could offer little else in response over the last 20 minutes of the game.

Once the whistle was blown, the Spaniards ran toward their bench in celebration, but after a few minutes all had disappeared in the dressing room, preparing for the task ahead.

The Germans lingered on the field, wondering how a team that had scored a combined eight times against England and Argentina had not managed a single goal against their last opponent.