Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
Pedro Xavi Iniesta
Lahm Friedrich Mertesacker Boateng
Trochowski Özil Podolski
No matter the opposition, Spain only knows how to play one way. And yet again, it leads to a 1-0 win. When that one way works so often...
And it led to an eminently watchable game despite the lack of goals. It was Spain's best performance of the World Cup; that Germany limited them to a solitary goal, from a set play no less, demonstrates just how good this Germany team is. But Spain were simply outstanding in midfield, pressing insanely, keeping possession excellently, and restricting German chances on the counter. Busquets was actually brilliant – the best game I've ever seen him play.
Obviously, I'm duty-bound to discuss the lack of Torres in the starting XI. Del Bosque finally went with width, with Pedro instead of Silva or Cesc (making seven of the starting 11 Barca players), and Spain's packed midfield dominated proceedings. Yet outside of Puyol's diving header over in the 14th, the Germans arguably had the better first half chances, with Trochowski's left-footed shot requiring a diving save from Casillas in the 32nd and a breakaway for Özil on the stroke of halftime. Consensus seems to be that Spain were lucky to see Ramos stay on the field, getting back to challenge and arguably clipping Özil just outside the box. It would have been soft, and Özil didn't help himself by tripping over his own feet in the box, falling theatrically.
But Spain finally put their command to use in the second half. Alonso shot wide of both posts around the 50th, before Neuer saved Pedro's shot from the top of the box after Alonso's layoff and Villa narrowly missed Iniesta's center across the face of goal within a furious minute of action just before the hour mark. Substitute Kroos forced a save from Casillas, volleying Podolski's cross tamely at the keeper in the 69th, before Captain Cavemen finally broke the deadlock from Xavi's corner – all 5'10" of him over the towering Teutonic defense. A brilliant charge forward to rise unmarked over Pique and smash past Neuer. It's the first Spanish goal of the tournament that didn't involve Villa.
Like always, Spain's style of play was its best defense. Spain made two substitutions with the lead, and both were like for like: Torres for Villa followed by Silva for Pedro. But before Pedro went off the pitch, he should have set up the goal we've all been waiting for: countering in acres of space on the right, he drew the defender, with Torres absolutely wide open for the tap-in. Somehow the Barca winger overran, tried to dance around Friedrich, and petulantly pointed to the spot after Friedrich dispossessed him. Embarrassing. Del Bosque took him off on principle moments later. I don't care that Spain won; he should still be flogged in the dressing room.
While there was some unavoidable late pressure – it is the Germans and they are decent at this sport – Spain mostly kept the ball in the opposition half late on, with Silva winning some crucial corners. Spain were simply smarter, and simply better.
Over my shoulder, Klinsmann's currently arguing that Germany showed Spain too much respect and lacked confidence. Nonsense. There might be a grain of truth in there somewhere – experience matters – but missing Müller mattered more, and talent mattered the most. Spain were simply more talented than Germany, with a smarter, stronger style of play that they know inside and out. They controlled the ball, controlled the tempo, and pressed Germany out of the match. The rickety defense that conceded against Switzerland made exactly one mistake – that potential turning point just before the interval – and that's it. This is the first time the defending European Championships have made the World Cup final since the year I was born – West Germany in 1982. That demonstrates just how good this Spanish team is.
Either Holland or Spain is going to lift the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time on Sunday. And it is going to be utterly immense.