DURBAN: Spain headed into their World Cup semi-final with Germany here on Wednesday having been warned they would have to overcome a much stronger side than the one they beat in the Euro 2008 final.
German striker Lukas Podolski has spoken of his desire to avenge the defeat by the Spaniards in Vienna two years ago, when Fernando Torres`s strike settled a match in which Podolski was head-butted by David Silva in an incident missed by the officials.
Xavi Alonso, the Real Madrid midfielder, insisted that any hangover from that match would have no impact on Wednesday`s contest.
"Once you go on to the pitch, history is not important," the former Liverpool star said.
"The important thing is how we plan to handle this match, our motivation and attention to even the slightest details. In a World Cup, the small details can send you home."
Germany`s four-goal hammerings of England and Argentina in their last two outings have underlined the potency of Joachim Loew`s rejuvenated squad and their pace, power and clinical finishing has made a strong impression on his Spanish counterpart Vicente Del Bosque.
"I think Germany are greatly improved since 2008," Del Bosque admitted.
"Their squad has undergone a renewal with important young players coming through but they have maintained the traditional values of German football.
"They have players of high quality with good technical skills.
"They have their moments when they attack and when they fall back. They have strong individuals who can make the difference in the match, so it is going to be an interesting meeting of two strong teams."
Del Bosque, who took over the Spanish side following the retirement of Luis Aragones in the wake of the Euro 2008 triumph, also believes Spain have got better, despite relying on the same core group of players.
"We have followed the path laid down by the the previous coach, but we have included some new players. You can`t stand still in football. We have tried to build on what we achieved before but I think we have also improved."
Del Bosque`s German counterpart, Joachim Loew, believes his side`s progress over the last two years has been significant enough to give them every reason to believe they can turn the tables on their opponents and book a spot in Sunday`s final.
"After we lost the 2008 final we were all very disappointed but you have to admit that Spain were clearly the best team in that tournament so they deserved to win the Euro," Loew said.
"Two years on, we have made a lot of changes, Spain not so many. In this tournament, in terms of how we`ve been playing, we`ve clearly come on several steps since 2008.
"In 2008, we were not as consistent and we perhaps did not have the same quality in every position as we have now.
"The players we have now have incredible skill, technique and tactical nous.
"We worked on developing these players and the team. Our combinations and flow are superior to 2008 when we used a lot of energy but were not always able to dominate.
"Now it`s a different story. We have been able to keep opponents under control and put them in trouble."
Spain have found themselves frustrated at in South Africa by the determination of opponents to stop them playing, but Del Bosque, Loew and their players are all anticipating an open encounter on Wednesday.
"What we have seen so far in the tournament, tells us that we will have an open match," said the Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta.
"Both teams will attack. The important thing for us will be to play our own game, keep possession of the ball and try to move it into dangerous positions."
BDST: 1711hrs, July 7, 2010