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Spain heading to the final

July 7, 2010
Schaerlaeckens By Leander Schaerlaeckens
ESPN.com
(Archive)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- In its first-ever World Cup semifinal, European champion Spain qualified for the final by eventually breaking down the German defense for a 1-0 victory. Paul the psychic octopus gets another one right.

Pedro, Spain: B+

Starting in place of Fernando Torres, Pedro had a highly influential game. He was the only Spaniard capable of carving space inside the German defense in the first half but was let down by his poor shot selection. In the second half, as the Spanish attack slowly succeeded in breaking open the final third, he got many more looks, but missed a real opportunity to set up Torres for La Roja's second goal while on a one-on-one with German keeper Manuel Neuer.

Carles Puyol, Spain: A-

Early on, the center back missed a header that he should have put into the back of the net. But in the 73rd minute, Puyol made no such mistake on a corner kick and buried the ball to give Spain the lead -- and eventually the win. He also cleaned up a lot of messes in the back.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany: B+

Germany's luxury engine had a strong game defensively, helping shut down Xavi for two-thirds of the game -- an almost impossible task -- but he sputtered offensively, unable to undertake the sort of runs that have made him one of the sensations of this tournament. He isn't one to be blamed for Germany's elimination, though. Under his direction, the defense was superb for much of the game.

Mesut Ozil, Germany: C

For the second consecutive game, Ozil couldn't impose his will on the match. In the quarterfinals, Argentina shut him down for long stretches by putting the physical Javier Mascherano on him. In this game, he was all but invisible. His inability to direct Germany's offensive traffic gave Die Mannschaft little chance to compete. Without an in-form Ozil, and with Thomas Muller absent, Germany's lethal transition game just wasn't there.

David Villa, Spain, B-

The superstar forward, who had such a splendid tournament thus far, wasn't impressive on the day. He struggled against Germany's tight central defense, much as he did against Paraguay. What few chances Villa did manage to create for himself, or receive from others, he shanked wide.

Manuel Neuer, Germany: A-

In a tournament that will probably never be remembered as one where goalkeepers excelled, it should be mentioned that Neuer, who is only 24, had another strong game. He was defenseless against the only goal and saved several more as Spain spent much of the game pelting the German goal, most notably through dangerous shots by Xabi Alonso.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com.