Two years is not a long time in football, especially when you consider that national sides evolve, certainly more than club sides. In that respect, you would have expected quite a few rematches from European Championship finals happening in subsequent World Cups. However, of the twenty-six finalists in the first thirteen European Championships, six of them have failed to qualify (including Czecholslovakia Denmark and Greece, who were European Championships), and three others have failed to get out of the group stages. This is the first time since 1986 when both of the European Championship finalists have made it past the first round, and only the fourth time since the European Championships kicked off in 1960 – and this is the first time since that initial competition that the finalists have met in the next World Cup. In France in 1960, the Soviet Union needed extra time to defeat Yugoslavia 2-1, and two years later in Chile, the reigning European Champions were once again victorious, this time keeping a clean sheet as they ran out 2-0 winners, both times Viktor Ponedelnik scoring the decisive goal. Spain, will be hoping for history to repeat itself, although the winning goalscorer from that night in Vienna two years ago is on the bench – his lack of fitness finally costing him his starting place. Vincente Del Bosque replaces him with Barcelona’s Pedro.
It starts as slow as you would expect. Spain control the ball for most of the first five minutes, and the Germans, knowing how well this Spain pass the ball, and work together, only start chasing it down when it reaches Pedro on the left hand side. A one man pitch invasion is swiftly dealt with by the stewards, and Spain carry on as before; slow build up, get the ball to Pedro, now on the right, and Pedro’s through ball is just too far for David Villa. Villa gets his toe to the ball, but there’s little power or movement, and Manuel Neuer makes himself big, and blocks the shot. It’s the eighth minute before Germany get any sort of possession, and they’re closed down almost as fast as the pitch invader was. Their first goalmouth action comes from a Pique backpass that Miroslav Klose chases down, but Iker Casillas’ clearance is rushed, but as the ball comes back Mesut Osil is wrongly adjudged to be offside. On 13 minutes, we have the first true opening. Nice work from a corner by Xavi, sees an interchange between Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, and Iniesta’s cross is headed over by Carles Puyol. He should have done better. Germany threaten from a corner of their own, as Ozil’s inswinger is almost misjudged by Casillas, but his unconvincing punch is enough to beat Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arne Friedrich.
FIFA’s Matchcast informs us that Spain have had 70% of the possession in the first seventeen minutes, but it’s an arrangement both teams appear comfortable with. Spain continue to build slowly, and Germany show that their counter attacking is still a threat, as a four on three breakaway is only stopped by a poor Lukas Podolski pass intended for Osil. As if to emphasis just how happy both teams are with the Spaniards dominating possession, it’s 27 minutes before we get the first foul of the game, Sergio Ramos is late on Podolski, and the German needs treatment, Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai taking no action other than awarding a free kick – he can’t have dreamed for such an easy game to referee at this level, although both of his assistants have been guilty of mistakes. Germany are prepared to show that can patiently build up, as they a slow, flowing move ends up eith Piotr Trochowski shot being palmed round the post by Casillas. The rest of the first half almost grinds to a halt, almost typified by Puyol’s backpass to Casillas from fifteen yards inside the German half. Osul goes down in the penalty box, under a challenge by Sergio Ramos, the foul was just outside the box, and Kassai wrongly waves play on, although Ozil almost landing on the penalty spot didn’t help his claim. Spain try and break, but Pedro waits too long to take his shot, and Neuer gathers. It’s a fascinating first half for one so low on talking points.
Ramos and Xavi create the first opening of the second half, giving Xabi Alonso a great chance from the edge of the area. Neuer is beaten, but so is the post. Xavi provides Villa with a similar chance minutes later, but the result is the same. Spain create all of the chances in the first fifteen minutes of the second half. Xavi feeds Pedro again, which Neuer saves manfully, but Spain keep pressing. Alonso’s backheel plays in Iniesta, but his cross across the face of goal just eludes Villa, as he slides in, and the move eventually ends with Pedro firing past the far post. Spain are getting closer and closer. Alonso creates another great chance, and Podolski and Ramos go to ground, but no contact is made. Germany still have chances though, as Podolski’s cross is left by Miroslav Klose, and Toni Kroos (on as a subsitiute for Trochowski) hits his shot straight at Casillas with his first touch. Most of the German possession through is let down by their final ball, which hasn’t been of the standard of their other games, but this is the best defence they have faced. On 73 minutes, we get a goal. Xavi floats in a great corner, and the only players to rise for the header are Gerard Pique and Puyol, the latter wins the ball, and his header is much better than the chance he had in the first half. Neuer has no chance. 1-0.
Spain now defend in numbers. Kroos seems to be involved in every attack, but it’s a question of numbers. Spain don’t commit many forward at 0-0, they commit even fewer when they lead, although Villa breaks away, only for Mertesacker to recover. Mario Gomez replaces Sami Khedira, as Jogi Low goes for his last roll of the dice, Fernando Torres replaces Villa, which surprises the Spanish team. Spain break again, with Pedro on the ball, and Torres supporting. Marcell Jansen is the only defender between Pedro and the goal, but he dithers so much, that Kroos comes back and dispossesses him. Torres is furious, he had the freedom of Durban, and as much as Pedro appeals for a foul, his selfishness is the last of his game, as he is later replaced by David Silva. Five minutes remain on the clock, as Puyol brings Schweinsteiger down just outside the area. It’s not a por challenge, but Puyol leaves his foot out for Schweinsteiger to go over, but the fall is theatrical, and Kassai is unimpressed. Despite the pressing from the Germans, the Spanish are still the most dangerous, on the counter attack. Torres learns from Pedro’s mistake, but the pass towards Silva is poor, and Jansen collects with ease, and a subsequent attack sees Iniesta try and walk the ball into the net, and the fourth official’s board indicates three minutes added on, as Xavi just fails to reach a through ball in the penalty area. Germany cannot break down the defence, and Carlos Marchena (53 matches for Spain to date, with no defeats) replaces Xabi Alonso, and it is the Germans who desperately defend, as Neuer races out of his area to prevent a Torres break, and that’s the last real action of the game. Spain have won by the same scoreline as they won two years ago, and for the first time since 1978, we are guaranteed a new name on the trophy. Spain beat Germany for the first time at a World Cup, and on Sunday, on the grandest stage of all, Spain will meet the Netherlands for the first time in a major tournament. They did meet in the qualifiers for Euro ’84, but each team won their home game, a 1-0 in Seville was followed by a 2-1 in Rotterdam.
Thanks once again to Historical Football Kits for the use of the graphics.