JOHANNESBURG Germany and Spain do battle on Wednesday for the right to meet the Netherlands in the World Cup final, in a semi hoped to be one of the most exciting clashes of the tournament.
A 3-2 Dutch victory on Tuesday against a Uruguayan side who battled until the last in an entertaining encounter, guaranteed Europe would win its first trophy outside the continent in the final at Johannesburg's Soccer City on Sunday.
"It is hard to comprehend, such a small country, but not a small footballing country, reaching the World Cup final," emotional Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said.
At home, the Dutch partied and prayed their new heroes could go one better than the past masters who reached finals in 1974 and 1978 but in both cases agonisingly failed to win.
The second semi-final in Durban on Wednesday could be a thriller with both teams committed to attack and fast passing.
The speed and quality of the German side has been one of the surprises of the tournament while European champions Spain are one of the world's most stylish teams, able to torment opponents with precision passes and possession.
Germany are looking to avenge their defeat by Spain in the 2008 Euro final.
The Netherlands, in their first final since 1978, had to endure some nail-biting moments on Tuesday night when Uruguay pulled a goal back in added time and looked in danger of scoring another in the dying seconds.
Germany and Spain have suffered only one defeat in the tournament, both to small teams -- Switzerland beat Spain and Serbia shocked Germany in the group stages.
But Germany have been the most impressive, their youngest squad in 76 years scoring four goals on three occasions past Australia, England and Argentina.
German coach Joachim Loew said Spain would be much harder to beat than Argentina and rival coach Vicente del Bosque paid tribute to his opponents' blend of youth and experience.
Spain started more slowly in this tournament and have scored fewer goals, but striker David Villa is in deadly form, joint top scorer at the tournament on five goals.
Superstitious German fans may be worried that a supposedly psychic octopus which has correctly predicted the result of all their matches so far here, foresees a loss against Spain.
Paul the octopus, which lives in an aquarium in western Germany, makes his prophecy by picking food from containers marked with the flags of the two teams.
Perhaps to counter that, Germany coach Joachim Loew is refusing to change his trademark blue sweater on the touchline because staff and players think it brings them luck.
Away from the soccer, South African authorities continued their case against a British tabloid journalist accused of helping a fan illegally enter the England dressing room after their goalless draw against Algeria in Cape Town.
Although the fan did no more than make his angry feelings clear, the case seems to be the highest-profile security breach in an otherwise fairly trouble-free tournament.
Journalist Simon Wright, who has had to surrender his passport and report to police every day, will go to trial in Cape Town after prosecutors rejected his bid to have charges dropped.
On a happier note for organisers, the overall attendance will pass 3 million at Wednesday's match, making it the third highest after the United States in 1994 and Germany in 2006.
Vuvuzelas may have been the unique symbol of South Africa 2010, but the plastic trumpets which sound like a swarm of angry bees are proving controversial.
In New Zealand, which hosts next year's rugby World Cup, stadium authorities are banning them.
"I can't see that that sort of deafening drone is going to be in any way well received," said Bryan Pearson, chief executive of one venue management company.
The vuvuzela craze has even reached Peru, but for all the wrong reasons. Two women were arrested in front of a Lima school for trying to sell marijuana stuffed into the horns.
(Reporting by World Cup team; Editing by Ossian Shine)
(For more news on Reuters India, click in.reuters.com)
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