Spain vs. Honduras: At World Cup, Spanish get back on track with win

Honduras' Sergio Mendoza, left, vies for the ball with Spain's Xabi Alonso during the World Cup group H soccer match between Spain and Honduras at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, June 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Dani Ochoa de Olza)
Honduras' Sergio Mendoza, left, vies for the ball with Spain's Xabi Alonso during the World Cup group H soccer match between Spain and Honduras at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, June 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Dani Ochoa de Olza) (Dani Ochoa De Olza - AP)

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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- Spain couldn't afford any more missteps in this World Cup, not after dropping its debut match in spectacularly disappointing fashion. On Monday night at Ellis Park, a team desperate to remain in the Group H race and resurrect its championship aspirations performed with style and grace but lacked a finishing touch against badly overmatched Honduras.

Though David Villa scored twice in the 2-0 victory, Spain squandered a cavalcade of chances -- shortcomings that could prove costly if the group's round-of-16 berths are decided by goal differential.

"We had glorious opportunities, many opportunities, we should have won this game by more goals," Coach Vicente Del Bosque said. "I am not entirely satisfied."

Spain (1-1) is three points behind front-running Chile (2-0), the Spaniards' opponent Friday in Pretoria. A victory by the European champions would move them ahead of the Chileans on goal difference, but Switzerland (1-1) is also in contention heading into its finale against eliminated Honduras (0-2).

The reward for finishing first is avoiding the top team from Group G -- probably tournament favorite Brazil.

A Chilean victory or tie coupled with a Switzerland triumph would eliminate Spain, which has lost just twice in 50 matches and entered the tournament primed to win its first world title.

"If we beat Chile, we're practically group winners, so we're happy," Villa said. "The good thing is that this result means we depend on ourselves."

Spain was without influential midfielder Andrés Iniesta (thigh injury), though his absence was hardly noticed. The ball was almost exclusively in Spain's possession, swinging from side to side, moving uninterrupted against an opponent that posed scant resistance and waited in vain to counterattack.

Villa, who is headed to FC Barcelona from Valencia this coming season, crafted forays from the left side and targeted striker Fernando Torres. With the ball in their custody for sometimes 10-plus touches at a time, the Spaniards probed for the opening goal. Villa launched a 30-yarder off the crossbar.

Honduras's lone threat came when Walter Martínez's chip into the box was controlled by charging goalkeeper Iker Casillas an instant before David Suazo's arrival.

Less than a minute later, Spain went ahead on a marvelous goal by Villa. He surged between Amado Guevara and Sergio Mendoza, took on Osman Chávez, then cut the ball inside to set himself up for a sliding right-footed shot from 14 yards that bent beyond goalkeeper Noel Valladares's reach.

Honduras remained pinned in its end. Suazo, Honduras's most accomplished player, was left to fend for himself at the top of the attack. Starved for service, he became obsolete.

Spain pushed for a second crippling goal, but Torres misplaced Sergio Ramos's cross and later missed high.

Honduras was no match for the precision passing, timely runs and technical brilliance. In the 51st minute, Villa had ample time and space to fire from 20 yards. The ball caromed off the lunging Chávez and sailed over Valladares for a 2-0 lead. It was Villa's 40th international goal and fifth in his World Cup career.

In the 62nd, Villa botched his chance for the hat trick in front of 54,386 spectators. After Jesús Navas was upended by Emilio Izaguirre in the box, Villa drove the penalty kick wide of the right post as Valladares dived the other way.

Later, the retreating Chávez cleared reserve Cesc Fàbregas's shot off the goal line and Villa's six-yard bid was blocked by the sliding Mendoza.

"They are masters on the pitch," Honduras Coach Reinaldo Rueda said. "We faced a team far superior. They are perfect in their passing and technique. In one simple move, they can eliminate four or five players."


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