By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Wednesday: The morning and early afternoon dragged and dragged, with Germany and Spain's much hyped semifinal match a rematch of Spain's 1-0 Euro Championship final win in 2008 shining as the reward for the soccer world's patience. When the game finally arrived, the world's No. 2 and No. 6 ranked squads did not disappoint.
The match kicked off in Durban to a massive ovation as the teams settled into a tense first half. Both sides proved themselves well prepared for one another from a preventive perspective, as there was little in the way of opportunity for either side. Spain dominated possession throughout the half but that was mostly a product of Germany playing very cautious and Spain's focus seemingly centered on, well, remaining focused. La Furia Roja did see two first-half scoring chances: David Villa made a bid for his sixth goal and Carles Puyol blew a header opportunity that likely would have resulted in a goal.
Things heated up a bit in stoppage time of the first half. The German counter finally showed itself briefly but Mesut Ozil's break was stopped short by an alert Spanish defense. Less than a minute later, Spanish midfielder Pedro, starting in place of the struggling Fernando Torres, got a shot on goal to end the first frame. The sequence set the stage for the second half: Germany's best effort just couldn't crack Spain's defense, and the Spanish attack was revving its engine.
Indeed, Spain's attacking pressure increased in the second half. Germany managed to sustain most of it, keeping its opposition off the scoreboard until the 73rd minute. But an unmarked Puyol redeemed his earlier mistake when, crashing into the box, the strong central defender's head met Xavi's corner kick and netted a potent winning strike. La Furia's defense remained cagey through the end of the match and even as Germany increased its pressure, the well-organized Spanish defense did not break. Spain held on for the 1-0 victory, matching the Euro final two years prior.
Germany is headed for the third-place match against Uruguay and will be favored to win. Any team that gets this far in a tournament is sure to be disappointed in defeat, but like Uruguay, Die Mannschaft exceeded expectations. And early though it may be, it's likely appropriate to start pegging this young, athletic, and well-tuned German side as a 2014 favorite.
Spain advances to its first-ever final and will face the Netherlands on Sunday. The World Cup will see a new champion for just the eighth time, as neither La Furia nor the Dutch have won the tournament. Spain does have one fourth-place finish to its credit, earned in 1950 under a different format, but is now guaranteed no worse than second place. Wednesday's victory, therefore, is a massive triumph for Spanish soccer.
Also Wednesday: With the day's match, the tournament's total attendance went over the 3 million mark. That makes the 2010 edition the third highest attended World Cup in history behind 1994 here in the United States and 2006 in Germany. Thus far, an average of just more than 49,000 have attended each match. Those are impressive figures given that South Africa is a very expensive journey for much of the world, but the tournament will still fall a few hundred thousand short of its maximum capacity.
The Argentina Football Association says that the ball's in Diego Maradona's court (or at his feet?) as to whether the coach will return to manage Albiceleste. After initially experiencing outrage and disappointment in the team's early elimination, Argentina seems to have embraced the squad and in particular Maradona as lovable losers. One lawmaker has proposed the building of a monument honoring the eccentric coach and once-Cup winning scorer.
What happens next: We get a couple of days to cool down maybe a poor choice of words given this heat wave before the third-place match on Saturday. And Sunday, it all comes to an end when, after a closing ceremony, Holland and Spain will make history as one side will lift its first ever World Cup trophy.
Question of the Day: Will Paul predict a winner for the final? I didn't want to discuss this, but it's gone from gimmicky to uncanny and is now impossible to ignore. Paul, a German octopus, managed to correctly pick the victor of each Die Mannschaft match throughout the tournament. The eight-legged tank dweller upset much of Germany when he chose to eat from the feeder marked by Spain's flag rather than his Germany's, indicating that he saw La Furia advancing to the final. With a 6-0 record in his World Cup predictions (including Serbia's Group D win), Paul blew me out of the water pun unintended, but recognized. It's understandable if Paul's focus is on the third-place match it's clear that his first duty is to predict Germany's bouts but it would stink of poor sportsmanship if he refused to pick a winner for the final at this point.
Quote of Note: "This is one of the greatest moments for Spain, for us to be in the final of the World Cup, it's history. And we want to make more history in the final." - Spanish striker David Villa after his team's semifinal victory against Germany.