In the end, amid all the hair gel, the untidy locks of Carles Puyol decided things at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. But mark my words, this was a bad result for this World Cup. Spain survive by strangling the life out of their opponents. Germany would have been far worthier final opponents.
While the sleek thoroughbreds knocked the ball backwards and forwards, it was left to the long-haired lover from Le Poblo de Segur to give Spain the 73rd-minute edge over Germany in a dreadfully tight World Cup semi-final.
He’s only 5ft 10in, but Carles loves careless marking in the opposition penalty area. After endless pontificating in Durban, it took a decisive head to put the European Champions through to their first ever World Cup final against the Netherlands at Soccer City on Sunday.
Without Thomas Mueller, Germany simply didn’t look capable of breaking down the well-organised (and dare I say boring) Spaniards. One Lucas Podolski chance, well saved by Iker Casillas in the 68th minute, was all they had to offer in a game dominated by the luvvies from La Liga.
Spain should have won it comfortably. Shot after shot flew wide as La Rojas painstakingly pulled the young Germans apart. And whatever happens now, we will have brand new World Cup winners – neither the Dutch nor the Spanish have ever lifted the Jules Rimet trophy before.
In fact, Spain had never got beyond five quarter-finals before this crusade, which started with the curious blip against lowly Switzerland nearly a month ago.
Puyol, who moved from his village club to Barcelona in 1997, had won 89 caps and scored just three goals before last night’s effort. In 331 games for his beloved Barca he has managed just six goals.
But statistics mean nothing when there’s a World Cup to be won, history to be made.
The man who started his footballing career as a goalkeeper was a striker when he came to Barcelona. He got his big chance under Louis van Gaal as a right back but by 2005 he was voted best centre-back in Europe.
By then he had spent five years playing internationally for La Rojas and, with Barca team-mate Gerard Pique, he has made this Spanish side difficult to break down.
Up front, David Villa – ear-marked for the golden boot with five goals so far – was so quiet, boss Vincente Del Bosque turned to the out-of-form Fernando Torres in an attempt to open things up. But he always had Puyol. The poodle among the greyhounds, he ended German dreams.
Now we can sit back and prepare to witness the first European win on a foreign continent in the history of the World Cup.
Curiously, an octopus called Paul has been predicting these things in his aquarium throughout the tournament. Germany certainly ran out of legs in Durban. I’ll put five squid on Holland to win the final though.
Neal Collins is in South Africa to witness the greatest World Cup of all and promote his first novel, A GAME APART, which predicts so much of what has happened at South Africa 2010. For more information see www.nealcollins.co.uk.