LONDON Hosts England sauntered into the Champions Trophy final after South Africa 'choked' in yet another semi-final when they were bowled out for 175 in fairly benign conditions at The Oval on Wednesday.
South Africa were favourites heading into the tournament but limped through the group stage and have now bowed out in eight major international last-four clashes and won only one.
England, not among the favourites going into cricket's second 50-over competition after losing a home one-day series to New Zealand, scored 179 for three to knock off the required runs in 37.3 overs and win by seven wickets with Jonathan Trott notching 82 not out.
"It's what you want in a semi-final, it was a good toss to win but you've still got to execute those plans and it was an outstanding performance again," England captain Alastair Cook said at the presentation ceremony.
David Miller top-scored for South Africa with 56 not out as the Proteas lasted only 38.4 overs, Miller's ninth-wicket stand of 95 with Rory Kleinveldt (43) the only highlight.
England, who face India or Sri Lanka in Sunday's final, won the toss under overcast skies and soon had South Africa reeling at four for two after James Anderson and the returning Steven Finn removed Colin Ingram and Hashim Amla in their first overs.
"It hasn't swung conventionally but when it does Jimmy Anderson is the best in the world and that was an outstanding opening spell," Cook said.
Robin Peterson, again promoted up the order, tried to steady the ship with 30 but was trapped lbw by Anderson before captain De Villiers (nought) and JP Duminy (three) followed in quick succession.
Spinner James Tredwell, continuing in the absence of the injured Graeme Swann, took his second wicket when Faf du Plessis (26) edged behind a cut shot with the ball barely spinning.
Slip Trott expertly ran out Ryan McLaren for one after the batsman had advanced down the track to man of the match Tredwell, who took three for 19.
The tail wagged as Kleinveldt hit an ODI best but paceman Stuart Broad dismissed him and Lonwabo Tsotsobe in successive balls to finish off the innings and end up with three for 50.
The batsmen mainly had themselves to blame with England bowling well but not spectacularly as the white ball again failed to move significantly.
South Africa, without injured fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, snared Cook for six and Ian Bell for 20 as they rotated bowlers almost every over early on.
However, South Africa-born Trott settled well in his inimitably slow style, sparking a Mexican wave in the crowd.
His cautious batting was criticised in the group-stage loss to Sri Lanka as an anathema in the modern explosive one-day game but his steadying presence was key to England's pursuit after a rocky start.
Joe Root (48) was equally watchful as the sun threatened to break through and rumoured rain failed to materialise.
South African fans were few and far between at the almost full Oval with many diehards aware of their terrible record in semi-finals having previously lost three in World Cups, three in Champions Trophies and one in a World Twenty20.
They famously threw away a 1999 World Cup semi against Australia when a last-ball run out caused a tie and the mental scars appear to be deep with the 1998 Champions Trophy their only major success.
"I won't say the toss was that important, we didn't play well, we were under pressure from the word go and you have to give credit to the English bowlers," De Villers said.
"We tried everything with the ball, we just couldn't get that breakthrough and get four, five and six. There are no excuses - I believe we have the talent and the potential to have won this tournament, but we didn't play well enough."
The second semi-final between world champions India and Sri Lanka takes place on Thursday in Cardiff with England awaiting the winners at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Sunday.