Clinging to a tournament-long formula of precise passing, ball control, tight defense and a timely second-half goal, Spain picked apart Germany 1-0 Wednesday to reach Sunday's World Cup final against the Netherlands.
Defender Carles Puyol soared above a line of players braced for a corner kick and scored with a header in the 73rd minute of play to send the Spaniards to their first-ever World Cup final.
The match between the Spanish and the Dutch also ensures a first-time champion. The Dutch, who beat Uruguay on Tuesday night, have lost in their only two trips to the final. The two teams have never met in the World Cup.
It was a bleak rerun for the Germans, who lost the 2008 European championship to Spain by the same score. And that match broke a 44-year major title drought for Spain.
Germany will face Uruguay in a consolation match for third place.
When the final whistle sounded, the Spanish players on the field thrust their arms in the air while the substitutes raced onto the field. Their smiles were so bright they could be seen all the way to the top of the stadium in Durban, their roars of elation almost loud enough to drown out the blare of those vuvuzelas.
For Germany, it's yet another disappointment. The three-time champs were making their third straight trip to the World Cup semifinals. Yet just like in 2006, they are headed for the third-place game.
The Germans retooled their team after the Euros loss in Vienna, bringing in youngsters such as Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira and goal-scoring machine Thomas Mueller, who was suspended after picking up a second yellow card in the quarters. But the Germans looked as if they were back in Vienna for much of the night, allowing big, bad Spain to dominate again.
Captain Philipp Lahm was in tears as he watched Spain celebrate. Bastian Schweinsteiger was on his knees for several minutes, and not even a consoling pat on the back from Puyol helped.
The Germans lost to a great team.
Spain has been the best in Europe -- all the world, really -- for much of the last four years. It's lost all of two games since November 2006, one a shocker to Switzerland in the group-stage opener, and that longevity makes for seamless and fluid play that is usually breathtaking.
Injuries had taken a toll on the Spanish in South Africa, and they didn't have anywhere near their usual polish. Fernando Torres, who can be devastating offensively, is still struggling to recover from knee surgery in April, and was dropped from the starting lineup Wednesday night. Cesc Fabregas played all of two games before the World Cup after breaking a bone in his leg in March.
But with the World Cup title so close -- not to mention Queen Sofia watching -- the Spanish came through with their best game yet.
"We worked hard to get here and now we have made the final," Villa said. "It's a great thing."
Spain dominated possession the entire game, and it peppered Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer so many times it seemed inevitable the Spanish would eventually score.
Finally, they did, setting off celebrations from Durban to Madrid.
Xavi swung a corner kick right into the scrum in front of Neuer in the 73rd minute. With fellow defender -- and Barcelona teammate -- Gerard Pique next to him and screening Neuer's view, Puyol leaped up and got the ball. He gave one mighty swing of his head, his long curls flying. Neuer dove to his left, but had no chance to stop the ball as it thundered into the net.
The Spanish players gathered for a group hug at the edge of the box, bouncing up and down and rubbing each other's heads as Lukas Podolski barked at his teammates in frustration. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]