David Villa (63 mins)
European champions Spain have made it through to the quarter finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, beating their Iberian cousins Portugal 1 – 0 in a fairly low key affair that failed to live up to the occasion.
It was the first meeting of these two great footballing nations in the World Cup and both came into the game on the back of outstanding form: the Spanish riding high on 47 wins from their last 51 outings; and Portugal intent on extending a 19 match unbeaten record. Both sides too, could hardly have resisted a sneaky peak ahead at the next match and an enticing encounter against Paraguay in the Quarter Finals.
The stage was set, therefore, for a blockbuster match but the conservative, defensive approach of the Portuguese kept the game decidedly monochrome next to the Technicolour fiesta we had all expected.
Despite the close proximity of the two nations and the familiarity with which the two sets of players approach one other (the majority of the players play in the Spanish league), the two side’s approach to this game couldn’t have been more different.
Spain were predictably out of the blocks quickest, parading their ‘tiki-taka’, quick passing football from the off and marauding like a flamenco dancer just outside the Potuguese box within seconds. Portuguese keeper Eduardo had to make three fine saves in the first ten minutes, denying Torres twice within the first 5 minutes alone and golden boot contender David Villa only minutes later.
Torres came closest in that first spell, picking up a sneaky short corner in the box to shoot first time on the turn. Eduardo once again saved well and the under-par striker did very little more before being substituted around the 60th minute.
The Spanish onslaught dimmed a little for the rest of the half as Portugal threw everyone back behind the ball, giving the European champions little room to work their intricate passing game. The only Portuguese goal threat came predictably on the break, right at the end of the half. Having soaked up 40 minutes of pressure, Almeda and Ronaldo strolled into the Spanish box and were literally queuing up to take advantage of the Spanish defensive lethargy. Yet Almeda’s header never looked convincing and one couldn’t help thinking that a frustrated, lone-striking Ronaldo would have done better.
The second half began much as the first had finished with Spain trying to force their fancy footwork and short passing through a sea of Portuguese players; and their opponents hoping to catch them unawares. Portugal very nearly did so in the 51st minute when a crisp counter attacking run from Hugo Almeida produced a shot that very nearly ricocheted off Puyol and into the back of the Spanish net.
Spain survived and the real turning point in the game came ten minutes later at the expense of Fernando Torres. The out-of-sorts striker has failed to realise his potential in this tournament and it was the addition of his replacement, Llorente that began to unlock the Portuguese defence. The substitute’s first touch of the ball was a diving header that, had it been directed an inch either side of the keeper, would have been a sure opener but it was enough to shake things up and the Portuguese defence struggled to contain the bulky, physical Spanish substitute for the rest of the game.
It had felt like it was coming and the opening goal did arrive moments later in the 62nd minute. A classic lesson in ‘tiki-taka’ saw Iniesta, Xavi and Llorente all take part, before David Villa received the ball on the left hand side and score a neat chip over Eduardo after the keeper had parried his first effort.
Portugal were left in complete disarray and a double substitution that brought Simao and Pepe off and Pedro Mendes and Lieds on, did little to settle them.
Llorente and Spain came close in the final five minutes. Flying into the box on the counter to receive a cross, the sub striker tried to guide the header past the keeper but directed his flick just wide. His performance will ensure a selection headache for manager Vicente Del Bosque.
In the end it was a victory for entertaining and attacking football. Portugal’s defensive tactics couldn’t keep out the Spanish flair and the losing side simply ran out of ideas after going a goal down. The final nail in the coffin saw Costa sent off in the dying seconds for a benign looking elbow challenge on Capdevila. This effete stroke of madness summed up their game, in which the seven goal routing of North Korea seemed like a distant dream.
Spain go through to face surprise success Paraguay and it is shaping up to be a sumptuous fiesta of football in the last eight, as far as Spain have ever progressed in the World Cup.
Spain: 1-Iker Casillas; 15-Sergio Ramos, 3-Gerard Pique, 5-Carles Puyol, 11-Joan Capdevila; 14-Xabi Alonso (Marchena, 90+3), 8-Xavi, 6-Andres Iniesta, 16-Sergio Busquets; 9-Fernando Torres (Llorente, 58), 7-David Villa (Pedrito, 88)
Portugal: 1-Eduardo; 2-Bruno Alves, 21-Ricardo Costa, 6-Ricardo Carvalho, 23-Fabio Coentrao, 16-Raul Meireles, 15-Pepe (Mendes, 72), 19-Tiago, 7-Cristiano Ronaldo, 11-Simao Sabrosa (Liedson, 72), 18-Hugo Almeida (Danny, 58).