Spain vs. Portugal: David Villa's goal gives Spain a World Cup victory
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA -- The white-hot spotlight was on Cristiano Ronaldo as the star striker led Portugal onto the pitch for Tuesday's highly anticipated clash with Spain, a place among the World Cup's final eight at stake.
But after 62 highly entertaining yet scoreless minutes, it was David Villa who delivered the game-winner. Denied with his left foot, he knocked in the rebound with his right to lift Spain to a 1-0 victory in the first World Cup meeting between the Iberian neighbors.
It was Villa's fourth goal of the tournament, tying him with Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain in the race for the Golden Boot, awarded to the World Cup's leading scorer. And it was the result of sharp reflexes and pinpoint timing against Portugal's otherwise brilliant goalkeeper Eduardo, with Villa manipulating the ball like a marionette does a puppet.
Villa's teammates did much the same from start to finish, playing an artful game of keep-away in which Spain controlled the ball 61 percent of the time against a dogged Portuguese effort. Spain's midfielder Xavi, voted Man of the Match, called it "basically the best match we've played."
With the victory, Spain advances to a quarterfinal against Paraguay, which defeated Japan, 5-3, in a penalty-kick tiebreaker earlier in the day. Portugal heads home "with honor and dignity," in the words of Coach Carlos Queiroz, having staged one of the more impressive defensive displays of the tournament.
Until Villa's two-footed strike at the 63rd minute, Portugal had not surrendered a goal. The internationally recognized Ronaldo, 25, who was alternately deployed on the right, left and center of the pitch Tuesday, concludes his World Cup with but one goal, scored in Portugal's 7-0 battering of North Korea.
The final game in the World Cup's round of 16 pitted FIFA's second- and third-ranked teams (Spain and Portugal, respectively) and promised a compelling matchup of Portugal's defense, with Eduardo, aided by stout defenders Bruno Alves and Ricardo Carvalho, against Spain's prodigious scoring threats.
Despite a storied soccer history, neither team has won a World Cup. The hunger to make history was in the air at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium, with 62,955 exuberant fans urging their squads on with insistent drumbeats and blare of vuvuzelas.
Spain, a five-time quarterfinalist, entered the 2010 World Cup as the favorite in the eyes of many. With so many great players -- Villa, Fernando Torres, Xavi and keeper Iker Casillas among them -- the 2008 Euro champion seemed positioned to win it all.
But it opened with a loss to Switzerland, then rebounded to finish atop Group H despite concerns that Torres was less than fit.
Torres came out blazing Tuesday, blasting the first of Spain's 10 shots on goal at Eduardo just two minutes into the game.
And Portugal quickly demonstrated it had more than one scoring threat, creating opportunities in the limited minutes its player managed to wrest the ball from Spain.
Portugal had a great chance in the 21st minute that started with a crafty pass by Fabio Coentrao. Casillas punched away the shot by Tiago, then deflected a follow-up by Hugo Almeida.
On his second free kick, Ronaldo fired a spinning blast at Casillas, and the action on the ball made for a tricky stop. Casillas cupped it with two hands, and a chance for a follow-up went wanting.
Spain came out the aggressor in the second half, aware that dominating possession wouldn't be enough.
In the 63rd minute, Eduardo ran out of heroics. He stood tall against Villa's left-footed blast but wasn't tall enough when Villa chipped over his head with his right foot.
"It has been a great collective effort," Xavi said.