The Spain team that faces the Netherlands in the final will be much the same one that beat Germany in the semifinal - without David Villa's scoring, for once. If Villa strikes on Sunday, the Dutch could be in trouble.
Villa is an equally good finisher from outside the box
If this World Cup is to be remembered as the one where the big-name stars - Messi, Ronaldo, Kaka, Drogba, Rooney - failed to deliver, it should have a very brief postscript. David Villa did. The Spain frontman has already thoroughly underlined his standing as the world's finest striker at South Africa 2010.
Spain has scored seven goals at the World Cup to date, five of them from Villa. The pre-tournament co-favorite has struggled to reproduce the form which saw it win Euro 2008. But Villa has almost single-handedly dragged his country out of trouble and through to the semifinal, scoring the only goal of the game to see off Portugal and Paraguay in the two previous knockout rounds.
His goalscoring run began - with a bang - in the second group game against Honduras. The 28-year-old picked the ball up near the left touchline and angled at pace towards the penalty area, slaloming between men. He shifted the ball onto his favored right foot, and, despite slipping as he shot, curled it into the top corner. Sublime.
The supply line: Villa (left) celebrates his goal against Chile with playmaker Xavi
He got a second after half-time, but squandered the chance for a hattrick, missing from the penalty spot. Whether he should still have been on the pitch is debatable, having aimed a slap in the direction of Honduran defender Emilipo Izaguirre. It was a game that showed the best and worst of Villa.
At his best, he is simply lethal, just as dangerous inside and outside the penalty area. He is quick and deceptively strong, suitably selfish as a striker, but also a hard worker who tackles back for the team. FC Barcelona was recently persuaded to part with 40 million euros ($50 million) to take him to the Nou Camp. Barca will be relieved the deal went through in May; his value would have increased by half as much again by July.
The heir to Raul
That his previous side, FC Valencia, was willing to let him go for any money reflects the perilous financial straits the club is in. Villa scored at least 20 goals in each of his five seasons on the east coast of Spain. His move to Valencia, from Real Zaragoza, coincided with his breakthrough into the national side. Coach Luis Aragones gave Villa his chance in February 2005 and then selected him in his 2006 World Cup squad. He scored three in Germany.
Aragones dropped legendary striker Raul before Euro 2008. Villa took his number seven shirt and won the Golden Boot with four goals in four games. A thigh muscle injury ruled him out of the final against Germany though, leaving his regular strike partner and friend Fernando Torres to finish the job with the only goal.
Torres and Villa work best as a double act
Torres and Villa have been reunited up front in South Africa, but the FC Liverpool forward has struggled on his return from a knee operation. Villa has looked like he has been doing two men's jobs so far, but was quick to defend his accomplice. "I don't agree with those who say that Fernando Torres' performances have been below par," he said. "The only blame you can pin on him is that he hasn't scored."
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque finally lost patience with Torres and dropped him for the Germany semifinal. There is some thought, however, that Villa is at his best playing as part of a two-man attack, because he doesn't have to be a target man and can drift, normally out to the left, to find space.
As Spanish defender Gerard Pique said after Villa's winner against Paraguay hit both posts before nestling in the net: "When a striker is on form then everything seems to go in." Villa is now just one goal away from Raul's Spanish scoring record of 44, having played only 64 times for his country. Number 45 could be a World Cup final match-winner - very sweet indeed.
Author: Thomas Sheldrick (dpa/Reuters)
Editor: Matt Hermann