Spain edged out Germany 1-0 in today’s second semifinal to advance to their first World Cup final in history. Now, on Sunday, the two teams commonly thought of as the two best soccer nations to have never won a World Cup will face off as Spain takes on Netherlands.

Today’s game proceeded as many people thought it would, with Germany conceding much of the possession and Spain passing and probing. However, the winning goal, when it eventually came, was certainly not what anyone would have predicted. It wasn’t the lovely passing of Xavi and Iniesta or the killer instinct of David Villa that gave Spain the victory. Instead, it was the Andy Samberg look-alike Carlos Puyol who scored on a 73rd minute header off a Spain corner kick. With Germany packed in deep, Spain showed it was capable of scoring a scrappy, opportunistic goal as well as an aesthetically pleasing one.

I certainly think Germany missed Thomas Mueller to help them on the rare occasions they did get the ball, but to be fair, Spain executed their game plan quite well. I absolutely think the better team won today. Bringing up Germany’s offense inevitably leads to a mention of Spain’s defense, which hasn’t exactly faced a lot of top quality attacking sides thus far. Yes, they did take on Chile in group play as well as Portugal in the Round of 16. However, Chile was hardly even trying to score for most of the game against Spain, because they knew a tie or even a one goal loss would see them through. As for Portugal, despite possessing one of the best attacking wingers in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s defense is its real strength.

However, nobody can doubt the potency of this Germany attack, which has dismantled both England and Argentina in its last two games. Certainly, Mueller’s absence hurt, but Spain also deserves plenty of credit. Spain essentially plays defense in a few ways. First of all, they play defense through their offense. Their possession of the ball obviously limits other team’s chances, and it also has the psychological effect of forcing their opponents to rush their attack when they do get the ball. Secondly, Spain almost never turn the ball over in their own half because of the skill of their midfielders, and when they lose it in their opponent’s territory they do a very good job of putting immediately pressures on the defenders or midfielders who possess the ball. Spain often recovers the ball within seconds after losing it, because of this high pressure. Finally, although Spain’s defensive line is definitely vulnerable, as we’ve seen a couple of times throughout this tournament, they generally do a good job of staying in position. Sergio Ramos is known to make plenty of forays forward, but Puyol and Pique play much more cautiously. They may not be great on the ball defenders, but they know where to be and how to remain organized. So much attention has been paid to Spain’s offense, I thought it’d be worth mentioning how they shut out this German team.
I hope everyone’s looking forward to the final on Sunday (and the 3rd place game on Saturday) as much as I am. At least we know we’ll have a first time winner. Also, I went 2 for 2 with my semifinal picks! Here are my final two selections.

3rd place game, Germany vs. Uruguay

My pick: Germany

I don’t think anyone will be surprised by this one. Uruguay is definitely a solid team, but Germany is just better overall. They’ll have Mueller back, and I don’t think Uruguay really compares to the Spanish squad Germany just faced.

Final, Spain vs. Netherlands

My pick: Spain

Hey, if I stuck with them against Germany, I might as well take them in the Final. Plenty of people saw the Spain-Germany semifinal as the unofficial championship and view the Final as a mere formality. I think that’s a bit disrespectful to a very talented Dutch side, but I do think Spain should win. The Dutch are certainly capable of pulling out another surprise, as they did against Brazil, but if Spain plays up to their potential they’ll win. I also like the Pedro sub for Torres. Despite the boneheaded decision Pedro made late in the game that cost Spain a second goal, he did look much more active and dangerous throughout the game than Torres has. I actually think Spain will get a first half goal that will force Netherlands to push up a bit. Whatever happens, it should be fun.