Carles Puyol’s leaping header guaranteed a new soccer World Cup champion will be crowned in South Africa.
The Spain defender rose to score the only goal last night against Germany in Durban, sending his team to its first final at the championship against the Netherlands, a two-time runner-up in the 1970s.
Facing three-time winner Germany and two-time champion Uruguay in the final four, the Spanish and Dutch won to set up a final at Johannesburg’s Soccer City on July 11, when the victor will become the eighth nation to lift the trophy.
“There will be a new winner on Sunday, which is good for football itself,” Spain backup goalkeeper Pepe Reina told reporters after the game. “For us it will be motivation.”
Puyol’s 73rd-minute goal allowed Spain to repeat its 1-0 win over Germany in the European Championship final two years ago. That victory gave the Spaniards, whose best World Cup performance was fourth place 60 years ago, their first major trophy since 1964.
Standing between Spain and soccer’s biggest prize is a Netherlands team on a 14-match winning streak in competitive games. The Dutch booked their place in the final two days ago by beating Uruguay 3-2.
“They are a very solid team, as a collective they work very well,” Spain midfielderXabi Alonso told reporters. “So we are expecting a very tough game.”
Joachim Loew’s Germany team entered last night’s match, the nation’s 12th World Cup semifinal, as the top scorer in South Africa with 13 goals following 4-0 routs of Australia and Argentina and a 4-1 victory over England in the round of 16.
Germany’s chances of a record eighth final appearance were snuffed out when Puyol, whose shaggy hairstyle makes him stand out on the pitch, ran in from the edge of the penalty area and jumped above the pack to head Xavi Hernandez’s corner past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer from about 12 yards out.
“Puyol had a long run and thumped the ball in with massive power and with great determination,” Loew said at a news conference. “There were two of our defenders somewhere close and we should have anticipated the ball. Puyol approached us too quickly and thumped the ball in.”
“Puyol just threw himself at the ball,” Alonso said. “You could feel the whole team behind him when he scored. We’re going for the big prize now and I hope we’ll have more reasons to be celebrating soon.”
Puyol refused an interview with Spanish television rights holder Canal+ after the game and went to shake hands with Germany players including Bastian Schweinsteiger.
“He’s very happy, it’s possibly the most important goal of his career,” Spain defender Joan Capdevila said.
Spain, which has never played the Netherlands at the World Cup, can become the first team to follow European Championship success with the global title since West Germany in 1974.
Keeping their emotions in check will be the key, according to Xavi, who was named man of the match last night.
“It’s a mind game,” Xavi told reporters. “It’s the final against Holland, a great team playing great football with great players in the midfield and up front. If we play the way we played today we stand a good chance.”