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Spain vs. Paraguay: David Villa gives Spain 1-0 win over Paraguay in World Cup quarterfinals

Spain's Xabi Alonso, right, competes for the ball against Paraguay's Jonathan Santana, left, during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Paraguay and Spain at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, July 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Spain's Xabi Alonso, right, competes for the ball against Paraguay's Jonathan Santana, left, during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Paraguay and Spain at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, July 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) (Luca Bruno - AP)

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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 4, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- Spain is going to the World Cup semifinals for the first time, but considering the hardships, perceived injustices and downright failures the nation had endured for decades, it was only fitting that Saturday's 1-0 victory over Paraguay was filled with harrowing moments and controversy.

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David Villa provided the relief in the 83rd minute, scoring his tournament-best fifth goal on a shot that slammed into the right post, skipped along the goal line and kissed the base of the left upright before settling across the barrier.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas preserved the lead in the 89th with an outstanding foot save on Roque Santa Cruz's clear bid in front of 55,359 at Ellis Park.

"It's a marvelous time for Spanish football," said Vicente Del Bosque, coach of a squad that won the 2008 European Championship and is attempting to shake its image as a perpetual World Cup bust. The next obstacle is Germany on Wednesday in Durban.

Villa's goal and Casillas's save capped another spellbinding evening of soccer in this sprawling city. On Friday, a few miles southwest at Soccer City Stadium, Uruguay defeated Ghana in one of the most captivating endings in tournament history.

Once again, penalty kicks and officiating were at the center of the drama. Casillas and his counterpart, Justo Villar, stopped penalties moments apart midway through the second half. Villar's save on Xabi Alonso came after Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres disallowed Alonso's successful attempt because a Spanish player had entered the penalty area too soon -- an infraction rarely enforced.

But with overtime looming, Andres Iniesta danced past two defenders and pushed the ball wide to Pedro, whose low bid struck the left post. Villa collected the rebound and, from nine yards, utilized both posts to break the deadlock.

To that point, Paraguay, in its first quarterfinal, executed its plan masterfully by disrupting Spain's short passing game and counterattacking with menace.

"It was very tough," Del Bosque said. "They didn't let us play our game. We felt very uncomfortable with the ball, more than ever."

Spain's first serious threat didn't come until the 28th minute, when Xavi lifted the ball to himself and volleyed a 30-yarder that nearly dipped under the crossbar.

The Paraguayans thought they had gone ahead late in the half when Nelson Valdez brought down a long ball and struck it past Casillas. Valdez was onside on the service but partner Oscar Cardozo was a step beyond the back line and involved in the play, nullifying the opportunity.

Spain's failure to break down Paraguay's resistance continued after the break: Space constricted, the pace slowed and the pro-Spain crowd grew restless with every failed combination and wayward long ball.


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