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SPAIN-GERMANY HAS FINAL AURA

Times wires

DURBAN, South Africa - The reigning European champion vs. the runnerup. One of the top scorers at this World Cup vs. No. 2 all time. The most dynamic team at this tournament vs. a squad that has yet to show its full brilliance. A three-time champion vs. a team craving its first title.

Sounds like a great final. Too bad it's a semifinal.

Many expect the winner of today's Germany-Spain matchup to be crowned world champion four days later.

"This would have been a great final, actually," Germany's Lukas Podolski said. "We want revenge for 2008. ... We still think about that defeat, and it still hurts."

Spain has lost just two games since November 2006, and it ended a 44-year major title drought when it beat Germany to win the European Championship in 2008. David Villa shares the scoring lead at this World Cup with the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder (five goals), and the Spanish defense hasn't allowed a goal in the knockout stage.

Germany made old rivals England and Argentina look silly in their knockout-round games, routing them by a combined score of 8-1 to reach a third straight semifinal. Miroslav Klose has regained his old form and moved into a tie with Gerd Mueller for second place on the all-time scoring list.

But more than stats make this a tantalizing matchup. Few teams can keep up when Germany and Spain are at their best, though the Spanish acknowledge they have not been at their best in South Africa. And at their best, each is the other's equal.

"What they say about us, we can also say the same thing about them," Spain's Andres Iniesta said. "You can say they are a great team, a team that has players of a very, very high level. For that, it will be a well-deserved semifinal."

Spain caught a break Tuesday, when Cesc Fabregas was able to work out with the rest of the team. Monday in practice, Fabregas took a ball off the spot where his right leg was broken in March, but tests ruled out any bone injuries. Coach Vicente del Bosque said he was available for the game.

Germany had to fight off a bit of controversy Tuesday after Philipp Lahm told the German daily Bild that he wants to stay on as captain even if injured Michael Ballack returns after the World Cup.

Coach Joachim Loew said there was no discord. "(Lahm) said what he said honestly, and he's done an exemplary job as captain," Loew said.

An ankle injury has forced longtime leader Ballack to miss the tournament. At 26, Lahm is Germany's youngest Cup captain.

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