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Carles Puyol's 73rd minute goal has put Spain into the nation's first World Cup final, defeating Germany 1-0, the same score the teams played to in the final of Euro 2008.
The goal came off a Xavi Hernández corner kick played to the spot, where Puyol was able to run onto his shot, headed between Manuel Neuer and Lukas Podolski for the match's only goal.
Spain had dominated the opening of the second half. With the exception of one Toni Kroos shot, Spain had created all of the half's chances, finally pay-off after Andrés Iniesta's effort created a corner kick along the left of the attack.
And with the exception of the last 25 minutes of the first half, Spain controlled the match. The Spanish came out with more energy than the Germans, stifling the German attack in their own end, and it was only after Spain had appeared to have worn down that the Germans looked to gain a measure of the match.
When the second half opened, that stretch of German competitiveness appeared to be an aberration, with Spain able to create chances for Xabi Alonso, Pedro and David Villa prior to Carles Puyol's goal.
Germany's best chance of the match had come just before the opening goal, when Lukas Podolski lofted a cross for Kroos, whose volley could not beat Iker Casillas at the `keeper's near post.
The Spanish now advance to their first World Cup final, where they will meet the Dutch on Sunday, ensuring the competition will have a first-time winner. The Netherlands have been to previous finals, in 1974 and 1978.
Germany has a Saturday match against Uruguay in the third place game.
Vincente del Bosque has used his second substitution, bringing on David Silva for Pedro.
Silva started the first match of the tournament, Spain's loss to Switzerland. He comes on for Pedro, today's surprise starter, who was only of the match's most active players.
Spain maintains a 1-0 lead in the 88th minute.
Joachim Löw has used hit final substitution while Vincente del Bosque has used his first.
Mario Gomez has been brought on for Sami Khedira, shifting Germany from a 4-5-1 formation to a 4-4-2.
Spain has taken off David Villa, putting Fernando Torres into their striker's role.
Spain maintains a 1-0 lead in the match's 83rd minute.
Carles Puyol has given Spain a 73rd minute lead over Germany, heading Xavi Hernández's corner kick in from 12 yards out, his shot going between Manuel Neuer and the post-protecting Lukas Podolski.
Hernández's lofted corner looked to target Gerard Piqué near the penalty spot, but Carles Puyol, running onto the cross from outside the box, timed his approach perfectly, powerfully heading the ball to the right of goal. Neuer only had time to stick out a left arm, but the shot was out-of-reach. Spain was ahead, 1-0.
Puyol had failed to convert an easier header opportunity in the first half, going over the bar from six yards out at the end of another Hernández cross.
Spain now leads 1-0, the match having progressed into the 78th minute.
A Toni Kroos volley at Iker Casillas's left post has been saved by the Spain captain, keeping the match even in the 70th minute.
A sudden build-up from Germany through their left side led to Lukas Podolski, at the left edge of the penalty area, lofting a pass to the far post, where right wing Toni Kroos ran onto the lob. The recent substitute allowed the ball to come down on this right foot before hitting it onto the near post.
Iker Casillas, however, had gotten back across goal as was able to parry the ball out of play.
The match remains scoreless, now into the 72nd minute.
Joachim Löw has made his second substitution, taking-off right wing Piotr Trochowski in the 62nd minute in favor of Toni Kroos.
Trochowski was chosen over Kroos as Löw's replacement for the suspended Thomas Müller, generating Germany's best chance in the match's first half. One hour into the game and with Spain attacking almost exclusively through their right side, Löw has chosen to go with the more creative option on his own right wing.
The match remains scoreless through 66 minute, with Spain having been the only threatening side since the second half's kick-off.
Pedro Rodríguez's 22-yard shot was saved by an outstretched Manuel Neuer, diving to the right, denying the match's best chance. The rebound led to Andres Iniesta putting a ball through the six yard box, a pass that was barely missed at the far post by David Villa, with Germany barely escaping the sequence with the match even.
The sequence came as Spain had increasingly asserted more control of the second half, consistently generating shots from around the area, a chance from Villa moments before going wide of Neuer's left post. Pedro's shot came after a lay-off away from the compacted Germany defense, with the right-footed shot darting for Neuer's lower-right hand corner.
The German `keeper's save keeps the match scoreless, now in the 63rd minute.
Moments after Jerome Boateng was caught up-field, allowing Xabi Alonso to spring a Spain counter attack, Germany coach Joachim Löw has replaced the young defender, bringing on Marcell Jansen to play left back the the match's 54th minute.
The move is the match's first substitution and came as Spain had directed more of their attack down their right flank.
Jansen was also in Germany's 2006 World Cup squad.
The match remains scoreless, now in the 57th minute.
Spain's first counter attack chance came in the 48th minute, when a good ball out of the back from Xabi Alonso put Pedro into space vacated by German left back Jerome Boateng, who had pushed forward into attack. Strong work from Pedro subsequently beat Arne Friedrich and Bastian Schweisteiger, allowing the Spanish attacker to cut-in and, eventually, lay-off a ball for the oncoming Alonso.
The Real Madrid midfielder pulled his 22-yard shot wide.
One minute later, Alonso was given another opportunity from the same area, a shot which he pushed wide of the right post.
The match remains scoreless, now in the 52nd minute.
Germany withstood twenty minutes of pressure from Spain before finding their comfort zone in the match, playing the European Champions equal through a scoreless first half.
During that time Spain was able to create the match's best chance, a cross for Carles Puyol who, from six yards out, put a header over the cross bar.
Germany's best opportunities have been more threats than chances: three near counters that were undone by poor touches and reads from central attacking midfielder Mesut Özil. The best of these chances came in the 46th minute when the German attacker overran a ball that had beaten the Spain defense, allowing Sergio Ramos to break up the play, coming to the middle of the pitch from his right back position.
Spain has registered only two shots on goals while holding 62 percent of the possession, with their new starting - Pedro Rodríguez, in for Fernando Torres - playing in multiple places across the width of the pitch.
Germany has generated only one shot on goal - a long-range attempt from Piotr Trochowksi.
Germany finally got a counter attack into the attacking third, using build-up through the right side aided by Miroslav Klose to spring Mesut Oezil behind the defense. The movement ended with Ozil on the ground, sixteen yards from goal, appealing unsuccessfully for a penalty kick.
The play started when Spain lost a challenge in the midfield that caught Carles Puyol out of position. Germany was able to move the ball into the vacated space for Mesut Özil, temporarily behind the defense until Sergei Ramos, from his right back position, caught up to the play.
Özil appeared to overrun the ball, a product of a poor first touch, and went to ground after he's slowed-up and got mixed-up with Ramos.
Spain was able to take the change of possession, move down the pitch and create a long-distance opportunity for Pedro, whose 24-yard shot was hit straight at Manuel Neuer.
After the exchange, which took place in stoppage time, halftime was whistled, the teams going to the locker room scoreless.
It took 31 minutes, but Germany has their first shot on goal, a speculative attempt from second choice right wing Piotr Trochowski.
The midfielder was given space from 26 yards out from counterpart Joan Capdevila. The left-footed turned toward the middle of the pitch and let a shot go, the ball moving along the ground toward Iker Casillas's near post, forcing the Spain goalkeeper to parry the ball out-of-play.
Now in the 37th minute, Spain and Germany remain scoreless.
After 20 minutes of Spanish control, their high pressure quickly regaining possession any time La Roja gave it up, the has settled-in. Germany has been able to establish their shape when on the ball, create avenues for passes and a way to maintain possession, and are finally looking as strong as their counterparts.
Twice, Germany was nearly able to get out on counter attacks, but poor passing between Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski stifled the breaks near the center line.
Now in the 33rd minute, Spanish pressure has waned, and both teams are playing conservatively when not on the ball.
The match remains scoreless.
Iker Casillas has provided Spain their first nervous moment of the match, as the Spain captain ran under a Bastian Schweinsteiger corner kick, nearly misplaying the ball as two German players waited at the far post.
The 16th minute cross was slightly touched by Casillas, reaching across his body with his left hand, and put out for another corner kick, which proved less dangerous.
The match remains scoreless in the 19th minute.
The match's first decent chance came in the 14th minute off a corner kick, with a ball played short from-and-to Xavi Hernández leading to an eventual cross for Carles Puyol, at the end of the six year box, in the middle of goal.
The Spain central defender missed hit the ball, putting it over the cross bar on what could have been a strong chance for a goal.
The match remains scoreless, now in the 17th minute.
Through the first minutes of the match, Spain's swap of Pedro for Fernando Torres did little to change their formation; however, come the match's ninth minute, Spain can made a change that hinted the Spanish will be more flexible than anticipated.
Come that time, Andres Iniesta was playing wide left, with Pedro having moved to the right of the formation, playing inside the right edge of the penalty area in what could morph into a two forward attack.
On the right flank, Sergio Ramos was providing the width, maintaining a high place in the formation while Sergio Busquets slide over from his midfield position to cover defensively.
The tweaks brought a quick chance for Spain, with Pedro feeding a through ball to David Villa that, read well by German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, was broken up before a shot could be taken.
The match remains scoreless into the 14th minute.
The first six minutes of Spain's match against Germany confirms what was implied by coach Vincente del Bosque's inclusion of Barcelona starlet Pedro at Fernando Torres's expense.
David Villa has moved back to a central striker's role, in from the wide-left position that helped make him the competition's leading goal scorer. Pedro assumes Villa's former place, wide left, with Andres Iniesta playing a center-right position next to Xavi Hernández.
Early, this has led the led-leaning Spain attack to isolate Villa on Arne Friedrich, Germany's left-center half, as Per Mertesacker and the rest of the Spain defense slide to cover their right side.
The match remains scoreless in the seventh minute.
The only change for Germany is a mandated one. Right wing Thomas Müller is suspended, forcing the first change to the Germany team since the second match of the tournament.
While there had been speculation that Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos would assume Müller's place, Piotr Trochowski has gotten the start. Trochowski has been a frequent substitute throughout the tournament.
Germany's Starting XI
G - Manuel Neuer
LB - Jerome Boaten
LCB - Arne Friedrich
RCB - Per Mertesacker
RB - Philipp Lahm
LDM - Bastian Schweinsteiger
RDM - Sami Khedira
LW - Lukas Pokolski
AMF - Mesut Özil
RW - Piotr Trochowski
F - Mirsolav Klose
Löw's choice reflects a more conservative approach, with Trochkowski being a more traditionally inclined midfielder than an the attacking option Kroos represents.
Speculation throughout the last week surrounded Fernando Torres and whether the ineffectual striker would start today's match against Germany. With the submission of his starting lineup we see Spain coach Vincente del Bosque has decided to pull Fernando Torres out of the starting XI.
In his place, Vincente del Bosque has selected Barcelona's Pedro.
Spain Starting XI
G - Iker Casillas
LB - Joan Capdevila
LCB - Carles Puyol
RCB - Gerard Piqué
RB - Sergio Ramos
DM - Sergio Busquets
CM - Xabi Alonso
CM - Xavi Hernández
AM - Andrés Iniesta
F - Pedro
F - David Villa
It is unclear how del Bosque will deploy this team, though the most likely scenario would find David Villa moving in from the left, taking up a more central role, while Pedro assumes Villa's place wide.
Other options that had been rumored over the preceding days: inserting Cesc Fabregas and going with a 4-5-1 formation; starting Fernando Llorente at striker and keeping Villa in a wide role.
Germany’s 4-2-3-1 formation has been the tournament darling that Chile was supposed to be, but it’s a set-up that they also used in Euro 2008; specifically, in the tournament final against Spain. Looking back at that team, you see that’s where the comparisons end, as a tweaks in the team's personnel have turned the Nationalmannschaft from a prodding squad that spent most of that final tempting yellow cards into a dynamic team capable of scoring within seconds of gaining possession.
That trait will be particularly valuable against Spain, a squad from whom few opponents see little of the ball. Against England and Argentina, Germany showed an ability (if not willingness) to play without the ball, maintaining their composure in defense while waiting for opportunities to counter. That counter attack was responsible for five second half goals against England and Argentina and could also be responsible for getting Germany to the World Cup finals.
Spain’s worst efforts over the last two years have come when they were exposed on the counter attack. Gelson Fernandes’s goal in the first match of this tournament, Clint Dempsey’s goal in the Confederations Cup - it’s a short list, but it’s also two of the three goals scored in Spain’s losses, both coming an classic (if chaotic) counters. While two instances certainly do not a rule make, these observations combined with questions regarding player match-ups makes the question germane: Can Spain stop a German counter attack?
To do so, they will have to contain Mesut Özil, the key addition for Germany between 2008 and now. While Germany was playing 4-2-3-1 in Vienna, they did not have a fast, skilled, dynamic presence in the middle of the three that’s required to effectively play this system. The Dutch have it in Wesley Sneijder and to the extent that del Bosque sometimes plays a 4-2-3-1, the Spanish have it in Xavi Hernández. Now, Germany has it in Özil, and to a greater extent than the Dutch or Spaniards, they’ve had wingers playing they system perfectly.
That changes today with the suspension of Thomas Müller. The German right wing has been amongst Germany’s two or three best players this tournament, but having picked up a yellow card against Argentina, the 20-year-old will miss today’s match with an accumulation suspension. Opposite Lukas Podolski's left wing, Joachim Löw will start Piotr Trochowski, a player being selected as much for his ability to get backward as forward. Against a Spanish team with a tendency to lean left, his inclusion on the right makes more tactical sense than starting Toni Kroos. However, the choice comes with a sacrifice.
With Müller in the team, Germany would have had a commanding advantage over Spain’s deep central midfield: Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, two midfielders masquerading as ball-winners. Where Spain would need a Marcos Senna-type presence to slow down an attack like the Germans, they instead have question marks. Whether the Germans can exploit those question marks without Müller remains to be seen. Özil, while a revelation in this tournament, has shown signs of wearing down, while Podolski has been good but not Müller’s equal. The versatility Müller offers - being able to play more centrally or along the line and allow Miroslav Klose to go wide - will inhibit Löw’s ability to target specific weaknesses. Whether Trochowski can replace all of those traits is doubtful.
Despite this diminished capacity, the Germans can still exploit Alonso and Busquets. Özil will be able to turn into a counter without having to worry about a true destoyer, allowing Germany to build the same momentum into attack that we saw tear-open England and Argentina. While they won’t have their full array of attacking options available to exploit Spain, they will have two, proven, major tournament goal scorers: Klose and Podolski.
Spain’s best defense may end up being a good offense. The Germans can’t score if you don’t give them the ball.
Conventional wisdom holds the German weakness in defense is in the middle, with a central pairing of Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich. Mertesacker presides over a Werder Bremen defense that is notoriously sketchy, while Friedrich has made his name as a fullback. As a pair they’ve seen very little time together, which may partially explain the nature the two goals Germany’s allowed in the tournament (Milan Jovanovich’s for Serbia and Matthew Upson’s for England). Then again, it’s only two goals in five matches, so if there is a weakness at the back, something must be augmenting (possibly protecting) them.
That something is Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira, Germany’s two in their 4-2-3-1 - the pair that have kept Mertesacker and Friedrich in their tactically-created bubble. Against a Spain team with creative, middle-of-the-pitch players like Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta, that protection becomes even more valuable and forces Spain to consider how they will get around them. At a minimum, Schweinsteiger and Khedira will crowd the area around the arc.
This is where Vincente del Bosque’s probable inclusion of Pedro Rodríguez comes into play. With Fernando Torres’s ineffectiveness taking the apparently unfit striker out of the team, del Bosque looks set to move Pedro in, presumably to the left, and David Villa back to the middle. This will take Spain’s best player - their only consistent goal scoring threat - and move him to the most crowded area of the pitch, away from the only position where he’s had success in this tournament. And if you’re saying that the semifinal is a less-than-optimal time to experiment with this solution, you should have learned spanish and emailed Spain’s federation two days ago. A change like this has been coming.
But this particularly change is not the only option. Other solutions rumored included striker Fernando Llorente and attacking midfielder Cesc Fàbregas, the latter seemingly the popular choice. While Cesc is undoubtedly the most talented player del Bousque has on his bench, his inclusion carries the same issues as Pedro’s. If you swap Cesc in for Torres, Iniesta has to move to a more left-leaning role, and Villa has to come back in to be the penalty-area presence. At that point, it’s debatable whether Fàbregas’s inclusion is better than Pedro’s (depends a lot on whether you think Iniesta is better in the middle or on the left).
Llorente, however, gave del Bosque a chance to address the problems of the existing set-up without undermining the success they’ve had with Villa. He would be a like-for-like swap with Torres, enable Villa to maintain the success he's had cutting-in from the left. Llorente is also the kind of hard-working, physical presence that can be effective amidst the crowd, an effectiveness we saw from Upson and Nicola Zigic (who set-up the Jovanovic goal). He also offers Spain an option should the need to go around the German middle, being a forward that can be targeted with crosses. For all of David Villa’s virtues, he is none of these things.
There are two pieces of good news for Spain. First, they have the talent to defy any kind of tactical disadvantage. You can play like Portugal, pack all but one or two players deep, and still see a string of intricate passes undo your plan. Second, Spain keeps so much of the ball and limits their opponents opportunities to such an extent that if del Bosque sees his tactics aren’t working, the score may still be 0-0 when he chooses to adjust.
All this tactical talk is well and good, but as even the most tactically astute analysts insist on noting, tactics are just one of many parts of a match, and while they’re often underrated by most covering the game, they are frequently rendered irrelevant. Sometimes, the best players just win, and today, Spain has that advantage. Spain’s players still represent one of the greatest collections of talent we’ve ever seen. Should they choose to assert themselves, there may be little a benevolent del Bosque could do to derail them.
Two years ago, Spain and Germany met in the final of the European Championships, with a first half goal from Fernando Torres giving Spain their second major title. Though the final score was 1-0, Spain controlled the match with a possession-heavy style with which they've become associated. The performance, if not the score, was decisive.
Since that match in Vienna, Germany has undergone significant change. Only six players who started that day are still in the squad. Current starters Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer had yet to make their way into the senior team.
Spain has experienced fewer changes, with ten of the players who started in Vienna expected to be available for Wednesday's match. The biggest change comes at the touchline, where Vincente del Bosque, the coach who inherited the team from Luis Aragones after that tournament, is struggling to find the team's championship form.
Where They Stand: Both teams come into the semifinals having lost with one tournament loss, but that’s where the similarities seem to end. The team that should be favorites has reached a nadir of form, while the neophyte multiculturalists have reached their apex.
Germany is coming off back-to-back four goal games, giving them three quadruples in five matches. In the knock-out rounds they’ve rolled through England and Argentina, cementing a crisis of identity in the former, accumulating a 13-to-2 goal ratio along the way. There is little debate as to whether the Germans are the in-form team. The question is whether their youth will allow them to carry that momentum through the tournament’s final.
To get there, Germany will have to beat Spain without arguably their best player in World Cup 2010, right wing Thomas Müller, who will serve a one game, yellow card accumulation suspension on Wednesday. Were it not for the suspension, we would have to start talking about Müller along with David Villa and Bastian Schweinsteiger for the Golden Ball. On Thursday, he will be replaced in the lineup by either Toni Kroos or Piotr Trochowski.
Spain will make no changes that aren’t voluntary, which is not to say there won’t be changes. Fans of La Casi Furia Roja have been anticipating a switch away from the struggling Fernando Torres, who has started at striker since the tournament’s second match. The alternatives are Fernando Llorente, a like-for-like change, and Cesc Fabregas, whose inclusion would move David Villa back inside from the left-sided deployment where he’s scored his tournament-leading five goals.
Unfortunately for Spain, disrupting Villa is pretty risky. The new Barcelona attacker has scored five out of Spain's six goals, setting-up the other. The only match in which he did not score was the one where he started in a central role - the Switzerland loss. If Cesc Fabregas is the solution - a solution that likely moves Andres Iniesta to the left and Villa back to the middle - it may create new, albeit smaller, problem.
Player(s) To Watch, Spain: Everything has gone through David Villa thus far, to such an extent that it’s difficult imagining Spain winning without him scoring. However, if they are going to do so, Xavi Hernández is going to have to make a star out of a Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Llorente the same way he’s fused so many stars for Barcelona. And it that doesn’t work, he can always fall-back on his partnership with Andrés Iniesta, the only other Spaniard to score in the 2010 World Cup.
Player(s) To Watch, Germany: Coming off possibly the best match of his career, Bastian Schweinsteiger, from his position in deep midfield, will be crucial to containing an increasingly narrow Spain attack. Along with Sami Khedira, Schweinsteiger will be tasked with protecting the suspect central defense pairing while Hernández, Fàbregas, and Iniesta try to ticky-tack their way to scoring chances.
If David Villa’s deployed through the middle, he becomes part of that battle of centrally deployed players; however, if Villa stays on the left, right back Philipp Lahm and Villa get to engage in a classic mano-a-one battle, a match-up tantalizing enough to make you wish Llorente gets his chance as Spain’s striker. Philipp Lahm’s defending is much improved over the two years, but David Villa would be a difficult test for the most defensive-minded of fullbacks. While the German captain may be up to the test, it would be nice if we could find out with some certainty.
In attack, Lukas Podolski may have to pick-up some of the slack created by Thomas Müller’s absence. He and central attacking midfielder Mesut Özil will be worth watching to see how they adjust without the presence of their versatile, right-sided counterpart.
Prediction: Though there are a number of questions about Vicente del Bosque’s choices in attack, the side’s biggest uncertainties will be Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets’ ability to stop Germany’s attacking midfielders before they hit the back line. In that way, this match may turn into a battle of which holding midfield duo performs best, with a Germany 2, Spain 1 result reflecting the relative strength of the Schweinsteiger, Khedira tandem.
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