JOHANNESBURG Spaniards exploded in joy on Thursday after their team reached the World Cup final for the first time while Germany plunged into tearful misery following a semi-final defeat that ended their World Cup dream.
Spain will meet the Netherlands on Sunday in Johannesburg's Soccer City when a new champion will be crowned from two sides seen for decades as the nearly-men of international soccer.
Spanish pride over their team's superb performance in beating a strong Germany side 1-0 on Wednesday was seen by many as a welcome antidote to economic woes which include Europe's highest unemployment and high debt.
Thousands of fans rushed into the streets after the victory exploding fireworks, blaring their car horns or playing mock matador with flags in the traffic.
The joy of Spain contrasted with gloom in Germany where men and women wept at public viewing sites in Berlin, where 350,000 people watched, and Munich where a crowd of 50,000 shed tears at the defeat of a team from whom so much was expected.
It was the second successive time the Germans had been heartbreakingly defeated in the semi-final.
There was a sense of bewilderment and shock among the population and in the newspapers after the youngest German team for three quarters of a century had looked magnificent in earlier games, scoring four goals on three occasions.
But there was also widespread admiration for the Spanish team whose experience, tactical cunning and unique skill in possession and close-passing nullified Germany's strengths.
But there was outrage in South Africa after hundreds of fans missed the semi in Durban because of chaos at a new airport, blamed on VIP aircraft jamming the runways and bad weather.
Radio programmes were filled with irate comments about the failure of the airports authority to move the small planes so airliners carrying fans could arrive. Up to 700 ticket-holders were said to have missed the match.
The chaos was a rare blemish on a so-far successful hosting of Africa's first World Cup, which has confounded pessimistic predictions of disaster.
Soccer's world governing body FIFA said the tournament would have the third highest attendance ever after passing the three million mark, behind only the United States in 1994 and Germany in 2006.
The Netherlands beat Uruguay 3-2 on Tuesday to reach their first final since 1978. It will be Spain's first final.
FIFA said on Thursday that the next World Cup in Brazil in 2014 would have a changed refereeing system which could include goalline technology or extra linesmen -- after some glaring mistakes in South Africa.
"I would say that it is the final World Cup with the current refereeing system," FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke told the BBC.
FIFA later announced on Thursday that England's Howard Webb had been appointed to handle Sunday's final.
The obstinate previous resistance of soccer's ruling body to change appeared to shift after some bad calls here, notably Frank Lampard's disallowed effort for England against Germany that clearly crossed the line according to replays.
Shaggy haired Spanish defender Carles Puyol, whose flying header late in the game won the match against Germany was variously dubbed shark or wild boar by his ecstatic team mates.
Puyol is a Catalan and Spaniards saw the team as an example of the unity lacking amidst the bitter political infighting that has marked the country's attempts to impose austerity measures to prevent a Greek-style debt crisis.
"We need something to show we can do things together instead of bickering all the time," said economist Pedro Schwartz from Madrid's San Pablo university.
"We're incredibly proud. This is a welcome distraction from the crisis and from the awful government we have. It lifts people's spirits," said civil servant Loria Alejandrez, 63.
The mood could not be more different in Germany where some fans blamed Paul, a supposedly psychic octopus who correctly predicted the results of all Germany's matches including Wednesday's defeat. Some want him publicly barbequed.
Huge television audiences watched the semi-final in both countries -- a record 31.1 million or 83 percent of market share in Germany and 14 million or 80 percent in Spain.
Spain will have to get past the Dutch to lift their first world title but even their normally calm coach Vicente del Bosque could not restrain his praise for the team, calling them magnificent after their best performance of the tournament.
The result on Wednesday means a European team will win the World Cup for the first time outside that continent.
(Additional reporting by Reuters World Cup team, Alice Tozer and Mark Elkington in Madrid and Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; Editing by Ken Ferris)