June 30th, 2010
All hail King David: Striker David Villa clips the ball over Portugal goalkeeper Eduardo to score the decisive goal for Spain. (Photo: Getty Images)
Just as South American teams were threatening to sweep all before them, Spain delivered a superb reminder on Tuesday night that the champions of Europe are more than capable of claiming the biggest prize in the game.
Vicente del Bosque’s side were forced to reach the World Cup quarter-finals the hard way. Portugal provided stern opposition and they can count themselves unlucky to be going home. Ultimately, they paid the price for being drawn in a difficult group and, as a result, progressing as the second-placed team behind tournament favourites Brazil.
Spain, though, were irresistible at times and – the out-of-form Fernando Torres notwithstanding – they produced a spell midway through the second half last night that culminated in a fourth tournament goal for David Villa and a last-eight match-up with Paraguay.
Portugese captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, endures a frustrating night (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Torres was so ineffectual that he had been substituted five minutes before his team scored. He will surely start the quarter-final but there is a growing case for his omission. That, of course, is a debate for later in the week. Last night was all about the heavenly gifts of the Barcelona trio, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Villa.
The admirable thing about teams like Spain, and indeed Portugal, is that there is so much to watch even when the game is a stalemate, as it was for an hour last night.
When the going is tough and the route to goal uncertain, these teams do not ask their central defenders to hit long balls. They rely on what they do best and trust that, eventually, they will do it well enough to break through.
This is what happened last night as Spain emerged from a period of uncertainty either side of half-time to spring forward and secure the vital goal.
Del Bosque’s team almost scored twice in a minute just after Torres had been replaced by Fernando Llorente, who headed a superb Sergio Ramos cross straight at goalkeeper Eduardo. Villa then curled a ferocious shot inches wide with his right foot.
Seconds later, though, they were ahead and it was a superbly crafted goal. Iniesta and Xavi – who else? – combined on the edge of the penalty area to play in Villa and when his first shot came back off Eduardo, he rammed the rebound high into the net.
It was tough on the Portugal goalkeeper, who enjoyed an impressive night. He later left the field in tears.
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo cut a miserable figure, too. His irritation was understandable. After a stellar first season at Real Madrid, he did not produce anything like his best form at this World Cup and the forward endured a poor night against Spain.
No matter. This was a game that Spain deserved to win, if only just. They began brightly, with Torres and Villa (twice) bringing saves from Eduardo in the first 10 minutes, and for a while it looked as though Xavi would simply pass Portugal on to the plane home. However, Portugal were unbeaten in 19 games before last night and – content to play on the break – they grew into the game.
Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas pushed up a Tiago drive and then had to paw the ball away from under his own bar as striker Hugo Almeida closed in. Tiago and Almeida then went close with headers.
Notice of the Portuguese threat had duly been served but the game took its decisive course in the quarter of an hour after half-time as an Almeida cross struck Carles Puyol and almost looped in, before Spain recovered to score.
Once ahead, they could have stretched further clear.
Eduardo saved well from Villa and the excellent right back Sergio Ramos, but Spain’s all-round ability was best illustrated right at the death when left back Joan Capdevila threw himself into the path of a goalbound drive from Ricardo Carvalho. Spain are not just a pretty side.
Portugal lost their cool in the closing moments and, as tempers became frayed, a series of heavy challenges went in and Capdevila was left prone by an elbow from Ricardo Costa.
The defender was sent off. That, though, was not the story. Happily, there were better things to talk about.
SPAIN (4-4-2): Casillas 6; Sergio Ramos 7, Pique 7, Puyol 7, Capdevila 7; Xavi 8,
Busquets 7, Alonso 7 (Marcena 90min),
Iniesta 8; Villa 8 (Pedro 87), Torres 6
(Llorente 58, 6). Booked: Alonso.
PORTUGAL (4-3-2-1): Eduardo 8; Costa 7, Carvalho 7, Bruno Alves 7, Coentrao 6;
Tiago 7, Pepe 6 (Mendes 72, 6), Raul
Meireles 6; Simao 6 (Liedson 72, 6),
Ronaldo 6; Almeida 6 (Danny 58, 6).
Booked: Tiago. Sent off: Costa.
Man of the match: Xavi.
Referee: Hector Baldassi (Arg).
Source: Daily Mail
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