- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 7, 2010

DURBAN, South Africa | Carles Puyol soared high to head in the goal that sent Spain into the World Cup final for the first time with a 1-0 win over Germany on Wednesday.

In a rematch of the 2008 European Championship final that Spain won by the same score, Puyol leaped in the center of the area in the 73rd minute to score from Xavi Hernandez’s corner kick, finally giving Spain the lead after having dominated from the opening whistle.

“The group deserves this but we want more,” said Spain striker David Villa, who is tied with Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder for the tournament scoring lead with five goals each. “We are happy to be in the final, that was our objective, but now we want to be champions.”

Spain’s best previous World Cup finish was fourth in 1950, when the final round consisted of a four-team group.

In Sunday’s final at Soccer City, Spain will meet the Netherlands, which has also never won football’s biggest trophy.

Spain controlled throughout with its precision passing game, playing just the way it hoped to, but had trouble finishing until Puyol’s late strike.

At the final whistle, Puyol raised his arms in triumph as goalkeeper Iker Casillas jumped on the center back’s shoulders.

For much of the game, three-time champion Germany merely sat back and waited patiently to snuff out Spain’s attack, hoping to launch a counterattack that rarely took off.

It was a sharp change from Germany’s last two outings, when it scored four goals each in impressive victories over England and Argentina.

Germany sorely missed suspended winger Thomas Mueller, who had scored four goals so far and was often able to outsprint opponents.

“In the last two or three years they have been one of the best and most united teams,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “They circulate the ball well and we couldn’t play the way we like to play.

“We had great plans but it didn’t work out.”

Loew seemed to think that Spain will also beat the Netherlands.

“They’ve won all the big games in the last year. It’s a good team that has played together now for two or three years,” the Germany coach said. “I am sure the Spanish can win any game because they are dominant and it’s hard to contain their attack.”

Spain had never beaten Germany at the World Cup in three previous tries but this was just the way the European champions wanted to play, having also won their last three games by a goal each.

Spain led 13-5 in shots on goal.

“From defense through to attack I think we played a great game,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “We’ve got another game in front of us, let’s see if we are able to control the ball. We’re in good shape physically, so let’s see if we can win.”

At Euro 2008, Spain snapped a 44-year major title drought, and the team has lost only two games since November 2006 — the last coming in its World Cup opener against Switzerland.

“We’ve shown that in the big moments we can grow even more,” Villa said. “We should have scored more goals, but one from Puyol has put us in the final.”

On a comfortable evening inside Moses Mabhida Stadium, Queen Sofia of Spain looked on from her seat between South Africa President Jacob Zuma and FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

The match got an early jolt when a fan carrying a vuvuzela ran onto the field four minutes in — suspending the match briefly until security officers forcibly removed the intruder.

Slumping Liverpool forward Fernando Torres was dropped from Spain’s lineup and Pedro Rodriguez was given his first national team start, complementing David Villa in attack. Torres scored in Spain’s 1-0 win over Germany in the Euro 2008 final but hasn’t found the net in this tournament.

Loew picked Piotr Trochowski to replace Mueller.

Spain set the tone early with its quick passing and Pedro set up Villa with a well-placed through ball in the sixth minute, but Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer did well to leave his net and block Villa’s shot.

In the 13th, Spain threatened again when a dangerous header by Puyol from the edge of the box missed high.

With Spanish players swarming around in bunches in midfield, Germany struggled to launch its counterattack, its passes either too short or too long to break through the defense.

Needing one more goal to equal former Brazil standout Ronaldo for the career World Cup record with 15, Miroslav Klose had the ball stripped at the edge of Spain’s area in the 24th before he could even contemplate a shot.

The first serious threat from Germany didn’t come until the 32nd minute when Casillas dived to his left to push wide a long, low shot from Trochowski.

Always seeking to make an extra pass, Spain passed up a few decent looks at the target and the match began to even out.

Germany playmaker Mesut Oezil strode through the center of Spain’s defense in first-half injury time but was muscled off the ball by Sergio Ramos. Wishing for a penalty, Germany fans jeered when Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai refused to blow his whistle.

A few seconds later, Spain produced the last chance of the half when a long, low shot from Pedro rolled right into Neuer’s waiting arms.

The second half started much like the first, with Spain taking the initiative.

Xabi Alonso sent a long shot wide in the 48th, then pulled in a little closer for another more dangerous attempt two minutes later, forcing Neuer to dive to his left, but the ball again sailed wide.

In the 55th, Spain’s attack stalled at the edge of Germany’s area and Villa sent another long-range attempt off target.

Three minutes later, Spain produced two more chances — one right after the other.

First, Neuer saved an attempt from Pedro, then Andres Iniesta slid a cross through the box but Villa couldn’t reach it for what would have been a sure goal.

Germany hardly even approached Spain’s area until Lukas Podolski passed to second-half substitute Toni Kroos in the area in the 69th and Casillas stopped Kroos’ shot by the post.

Desperate for a goal, fans began to blow harder on their vuvuzelas and they were rewarded by Puyol.

Torres replaced Villa for the final nine minutes and immediately made an impact, sending Pedro striding upfield in the 82nd. But Pedro refused to give the ball back to Torres, wasting a chance to double Spain’s lead.

Germany will face Uruguay in the third-place match Saturday in Port Elizabeth.

“Tomorrow, we’ll have to try and encourage the team,” Loew said. “Because there is one game left to play.”

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