After the Netherlands won through to the FIFA World Cup™ Final last night, Germany will take on Spain in the second semi-final in Durban this evening in a repeat of the UEFA EURO 2008 final. The Spanish prevailed then but no team has looked more impressive so far in South Africa than the Germans, who put four past England in the Round of 16 and then dished out similar treatment to Argentina in the quarter-finals. Their upcoming opponents did not look quite as impressive in disposing of Portugal and Paraguay in the same rounds, the European champions edging through on both occasions thanks to opportunistic strikes by striker David Villa.
Uruguay 2-3 Netherlands
Germany-Spain, 7 July, Durban, 20.30
The big game
Much has changed in the two years since a Fernando Torres goal put a Michael Ballack-led Germany to the sword in the final of EURO 2008. With the injured Ballack watching from the stands and Torres still struggling to recapture his goalscoring touch, it is the youthful Germans and not the Spanish who have been catching the eye with their high-tempo football. Coach Joachim Low has unleashed a new generation of talented tyros including Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil, two of the spearheads of a squad with an average age of only 24.9. Low can also count on a rejuvenated Miroslav Klose. Little used last season by Bayern Munich, the veteran forward is closing in fast on Ronaldo's all-time FIFA World Cup scoring record.
Not to be outdone, Vicente del Bosque can call on a lethal finisher of his own in Barcelona new boy Villa, the leading marksman at South Africa 2010 with five goals in all. And while the Spaniards have yet to move the ball around with their customary élan, they still carry a threat too potent for most teams and boast an exceptional supporting cast that includes the livewire Pedro, whose services could be called upon if extra time beckons. Whether this game is decided in 90 minutes or not, there should be plenty of goals and entertainment in store.
Klose v Villa
In a semi-final that may be decided by the narrowest of margins, each side will look to their predator-in-chief to make the difference. With the four-goal Muller suspended, Klose's ability to sniff out a chance for Germany will be doubly important and just one more goal would take him level with Ronaldo on 15 in the FIFA World Cup. Villa is in equally dangerous form, having scored in four consecutive games here in South Africa, and if Torres's goal drought continues, the little No7 could have a big say in Spain's chances of reaching a first ever world Final.
What they said
"It will be like a final. We know them. We are a very offensive team and they are maybe the most exciting team at this World Cup," Fernando Torres, Spain striker.
Stars on the wane: Several of the game's most established talents have failed to shine at South Africa 2010. Four years on from appearing in the Final at Germany 2006, Italy's Gianluigi Buffon managed only 45 minutes on the pitch due to injury, while France's Thierry Henry made only sporadic appearances from the bench. Leading scorers in their respective league championships, Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney, both went home goalless after frustrating campaigns, while the Real Madrid duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka also had tournaments to forget. On the flipside, the quartet of Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt, Van Persie and Robben have all excelled in the Netherlands' excellent run, while the German duo of Muller and Klose have grabbed eight goals between them.
Continental shift: Europe responded well to the gauntlet thrown down by South America in the quarter-finals, with the old continent’s three representatives winning their ties against the cream of CONMEBOL, scoring seven goals and conceding just the one in doing so. Even so, with Uruguay taking the other semi slot, Europe missed out on a repeat of its full house at Germany 2006, when the host nation, Italy, France and Portugal made up the last four.
Casillas the penalty king: In clutching on to Oscar Cardozo's tame spot-kick on Saturday evening, the Spain No1 became the third goalkeeper in FIFA World Cup history to save two penalties outside of a shoot-out at the finals. The Real Madrid man also denied Republic of Ireland’s Ian Harte in the Round of 16 at Korea/Japan 2002, and joins Poland's Jan Tomaszewski and USA's Brad Friedel in what is a highly select group. Casillas's team-mate Villa is gunning for a record of his own. The striker has now scored in four consecutive finals matches and can equal the record set by Just Fontaine at Sweden 1958 and Jairzinho at Mexico 1970 if he finds the back of the net again in Spain’s next two games.