Three thoughts after Spain’s 1-0 victory against Germany in the World Cup semifinals:
• Spain deserves to be in its first World Cup final. The Spanish dominated possession from the opening whistle and took the game to the Germans, who couldn’t strike back with the devastating counter-attacks that had destroyed England and Argentina. But while this was a justified result, let the record show that Spain’s goal came not at the end of a majestic passing sequence but on a garden-variety corner kick that was finished with superb force by a Carles Puyol header. This is what makes soccer great: All tournament long we’ve heard how one of Spain’s biggest concerns was that it had too many short players, especially on the back line. So what happens? Puyol, who’s all of 5’9”, leaps high into the air for the deciding strike. Perfect.
• Germany missed Thomas Müller. That harmless-looking (and let’s be honest, undeserved) yellow card that Müller drew against Argentina came back to hurt the Germans against Spain. You have to wonder what might have happened if Müller had been on the field instead of Piotr Trochowski, who had one blistering shot but was still a downgrade from what Müller had done with his four goals in this tournament. You want to see the best players in the biggest games, and I’m still bothered that Müller could get two yellow cards in five games and be forced to miss the World Cup semifinal. An easy solution: FIFA could wipe the yellow-card slate clean after the group stage and the quarterfinals.
• There will be a first-time World Cup champion. I’m a neutral here, but I have to admit I wanted to see the Netherlands and Spain meeting in the final. Here are the two greatest soccer nations that have never won the World Cup, and it will all be on the line for 90 (or 120) minutes on Sunday. The Netherlands is the only team that has won all of its games in this World Cup (remember that Spanish loss to Switzerland?), while Spain has been the best team in the world (for me, at least) over the past two years. These are two teams that belong in the final, and we’ll finally add an eighth country to the short list of seven that have been able to call themselves World Cup champion. Click here to read my story from this week’s SI magazine on what makes the World Cup final one of the most special moments in sports.