Spain were forced to work
harder than expected to beat Paraguay 1-0 on Saturday as they
reached the last four at the World Cup for the first time since
1950 in a dramatic match in which both sides missed a penalty.
The quarter-final at Ellis Park
exploded into life in the
second-half with both goalkeepers saving spot kicks before Spain
striker David Villa pounced in the 83rd minute to keep his team
in with a chance of lifting the trophy for the first time.
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Villa is now the tournament's top
scorer with five goals.
"It's a good moment for Spanish football," said coach
Vicente del Bosque, who now has to plot a repeat of Spain's 2008
European championship final win over Germany knowing they will
have to raise their game to match their sparkling opponents.
It was tough for Paraguay, playing
in their first World Cup
quarter-final, after they succeeded in nullifying Spain's
talented strike-force and created chances of their own, defying
predictions of an easy workout for the European champions.
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Looking distinctly underwhelmed by
opponents, Paraguay's beanpole striker Oscar Cardozo combined
well with his nippier partner Nelson Valdez to create a string
of half-chances. Valdez even had the ball in the net after 41
minutes but Cardozo was ruled offside in the move.
Paraguay's manager Gerardo Martino
was proud but frustrated.
"We gave our all, we had opportunities, but unfortunately
Spain converted and Paraguay didn't," he said. "We didn't have
luck with us. It was a game we could have won. Now we have to
resign ourselves to this tough blow."
Before Villa popped up witht he
winner, the game appeared
headed for extra time after both sides had missed from the spot
in an extraordinary flurry of activity that woke up the
55,359-strong crowd early in the second period.
First, referee Carlos Batres ruled
Spain defender Gerard
Pique had hauled down Cardozo in the penalty area.
The striker sent his spot-kick low
to the left of Iker
Casillas but Spain's captain and goalkeeper saved comfortably.
Moments later at the other end,
Spain were awarded a penalty
after Villa went down under a challenge from Antolin Alcaraz.
Xabi Alonso netted high to Justo
Villar's right, sparking
celebrations on the Spain bench, but the referee made him retake
the penalty kick after players from both sides encroached.
Alonso struck his next attempt low
to Villar's left but this
was also saved. In the aftermath, substitute Cesc Fabregas, on
for ineffective striker Fernando Torres, appeared to be brought
down by the keeper but the referee awarded a corner.
With both sides pressing for a
late winner, Spain substitute
Pedro hit the post following a brilliant run by Andres Iniesta.
Villa picked up the rebound and
struck a right-foot shot
that remarkably went into the net off both posts.
When the whistle went, Spain's
players rushed towards their
skipper Casillas while Paraguay's Cardozo sobbed in the centre.
"I'd like to congratulate Paraguay
on playing a very serious
game," the Spain keeper said. "Maybe being honest, this wasn't
one of our best performances."
Though Spain probed and prodded
Paraguay throughout, they
lacked fluency in their passing and precision in crossing.
The result means that despite a
fantastic start to the
tournament by South American teams, Europe now has three
countries in the semi-finals - Spain, Germany and Netherlands
- to South America's one representative, Uruguay.
Spain should be wary of Germany,
who thrashed Diego
Maradona's Argentina 4-0 in Saturday's first quarter-final after
dispatching England 4-1 in the previous round.
"Germany have played a brilliant
World Cup so far. They must
be tremendously motivated and we are also at the top of our
game," Iniesta said. "It is going to be a beautiful battle."
Spain play Germany in Durban on
Wednesday after Uruguay meet
Netherlands in the first semi-final in Cape Town on Tuesday.
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