DURBAN, South Africa, July 5, 2010 (AFP) - Spain enter uncharted territory here on Wednesday as the European Champions attempt to reach a World Cup final for the first time.
A vibrant young German side that knocked four goals past Australia, England and Argentina on its way to the last four stands between Vicente Del Bosque's squad and Sunday's final at Soccer City, Johannesburg.
While Germany have been playing out of their skins, the Spanish have not quite reached their optimum level of performance so far in South Africa.
|Germany's striker Miroslav Klose (R) is challenged by Argentina's defender Gabriel Heinze during the quarter-final between Argentina and Germany on July 3. AFP|
Yet such is the reverence accorded to their current crop of stars, it would be regarded as an upset if they were to fall at the penultimate hurdle in their quest to emulate the West Germany side that became European champions in 1972 and went on to lift the World Cup two years later.
Remarkably for a country whose domestic league has long been considered one of the strongest in the world, Spain have only once before been in touching distance of sport's biggest prize.
That was in 1950 in Brazil in a tournament which, in the aftermath of World War II, was only able to attract 13 participants. India, famously, declined an invitation to make up the numbers because FIFA would not let them play in bare feet.
Spain made it to the final group stage and managed to draw with the eventual champions Uruguay but defeats by Brazil and Sweden left them in fourth place.
Del Bosque admits the pressure on his players to fulfil their potential is huge, although he has played down suggestions that has contributed to the difficulties Spain have encountered on the road to the last four.
Instead, the Spanish coach points to the fact that three of his side's five matches have been against Latin American opponents -- Honduras, Chile and Paraguay -- all of them adept at denying opponents time and space.
Against Germany, the Spanish are hoping for a more open encounter. "We know we can play better than we have done so far and we hope to do that in the semi-final," Del Bosque said.
"I think it will be a good advert for football."
Spain are hoping for more from Fernando Torres, who has had a subdued tournament so far and has been eclipsed by five-goal team-mate David Villa.
Del Bosque, who has not changed his line-up for the last three matches, has indicated that he will keep faith the Liverpool striker.
"Fernando has not been helped by the team not clicking at times, but we're very happy with his work," the coach said.
Torres scored the only goal of the match when Spain beat Germany in the Euro 2008 final but he insists he is not getting hung up about his failure to find the net here.
"I think it's going to be a great game," he said. "They've been the most exciting team of the tournament so far and we are also an offensive team.
"You can see with what they did to England and Argentina that they are very dangerous.
"But we will have chances. They will attack us and try to win the match so that should mean we have more space to play our game."
Torres added: "If I get the the chance to score the winning goal, it'd be nice to do it again, but it doesn't matter who scores as long as we win.
"David's doing a fantastic job. It has been his World Cup."
Both Spain's injury doubts, Carles Puyol and Cesc Fabregas, have been given the all-clear for Wednesday while Germany will be significantly weakened by the loss of outstanding midfielder Thomas Mueller, who is suspended.
German coach Joachim Loew has to decide between Hamburg attacking midfielder Piotr Trochowski and 20-year-old Toni Kroos as a replacement and striker Miroslav Klose is confident that either of them can plug the gap.
Klose, who needs one more goal to equal Ronaldo's record of 15 in World Cup finals, said: "We have players in this group capable of compensating for Thomas's absence and we will show that in our next game."
Key to match
Space. The key to Germany's success has been their ability to commit to attacks but quickly recover their defensive shape when they break down. It worked well against England and Argentina but the precision of Spain's passing means denying them space and time on the ball will be an even greater premium and require a Herculean physical effort.