Spain took on Paraguay in the last of the quarterfinal matches with a semi final appearance against Germany at stake. La Roja had looked quite comfortable against Portugal while Paraguay had come through after a shaky victory against Japan in the last round. Both teams were looking to progress to the next round and it made for an interesting match up at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg.
Spain went in with the same line up that took the field against Portugal with Del Bosque opting to go with the out of form Fernando Torres up front. Paraguay made quite a few changes to their line-up with Oscar Cardozo, Nelson Valdez and Jonathan Santana coming in for Roque Santa Cruz, Lucas Barrios and Edgar Benitez.
Paraguay were quicker off the blocks and had a sniff at goal in the first minute itself when Nelson Valdez laid the ball off for Jonathan Santana who saw his low shot held by Iker Casillas. That would be the only piece of action for the next 20 minutes though as both teams struggled to hold onto possession and the game lacked any sort of fluidity. Paraguay had a couple pf freekicks in the Spanish half but ended up wasting the opportunity to create something meaningful.
David Villa got into the game when he left Paraguayan full back Veron for dead before making a run into the box but his cross was cleared out for a corner. Xavi had the best chance of the first half just moments later when a quick Spanish free kick found the midfielder in space. He produced a wonderful touch and turn and took a first time shot which went just over the crossbar. Spain were beginning to grow in confidence and a long clearance by Iker Casillas found David Villa with acres of space. He switched play and passed the ball to the advancing Andres Iniesta whose first time cross was just out of reach of Fernando Torres.
Paraguay, who had quietened after the lively start, had a great chance to take the lead in the 35th minute but Morel’s cross from the left was just a tad too long for Oscar Cardozo. Paraguay thought they had taken the lead in the 40th minute when Nelson Valdez put the ball in the back of the net only to see the referee’s flag raised for offside. Valdez had another great chance in the dying moments of the first half when he out paced Carles Puyol but was unable to direct his shot on target.
The first half ended without a goal being scored and, on the basis of the level of football on display, neither team looking to score one after the break. Spain finished the half with no shots on target while Paraguay only had the solitary effort in the first minute of the game.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first had ended with neither team able to control the game and force a mistake. Fernando Torres was having another bad night upfront offering little in terms of an attacking threat. He was replaced in the 55th minute by Cesc Fabregas in a bid to sharpen the movement upfront.
And then it happened. Paraguay were gifted a wonderful opportunity to take the lead in the 57th minute. The referee awarded Paraguay a penalty for Gerard Pique pulling down Oscar Cardozo in the box. The Barcelona defender was shown a yellow for his trouble. More drama was to follow though as the ensuing penalty from Cardozo was wonderfully saved by the brilliant Iker Casillas who dived low and to his left to smother the shot.
The drama was not over though as Casillas immediately cleared the ball to the other end where David Villa picked up the ball and made a run into the Paraguayan box. He tussled with Antolin Alcaraz before going down in the box. The Guatemalan refreee again pointed to the spot and now it was Spain who had a wonderful opprotunity to go ahead. Xabi Alonso stepped up to take the spot kick and slotted home coolly only for the referee to call a foul as Spanish players rushed into the box as the penalty was being taken. As a result, Alonso had to retake the penalty and Justo Villar made an almost identical save to the one made by Casillas at the other end.
The game picked up some speed with Spain beginning to gain some fluidity in their movement. Iniesta had a shot on goal that was palmed away by Villar. Iniesta was involved again as he shot over from just outside the box after some womderful passing had seen Joan Capdevila cut the ball back for the diminutive midfielder.
David Villa: Is there anyone better?
Del Bosque brought on Pedro in place of Xabi Alonso in a bid to add some more firepower upfront. The move paid off as Spain took a deserved lead in the 83rd minute with the subsitute heavily involved in the goal. Andres Iniesta made a brilliant run before passing the ball to Pedro who saw his shot hit the post and fall to David Villa in the box. Villa collected the ball and calmly curled it in off the post to give Spain the lead. It was Villa’s 5th goal of the tournament and the 43rd for his country, leaving him just one short of the record held by Raul.
The game opened up a bit more at both ends and Paraguay had an opportunity to level things when Casillas fumbled a shot by Barrios but recovered in time to save the rebound by Santa Cruz. Just a minute later, Spain had the opportunity to put the game to rest when Pedro broke down the right hand side and cut the ball back to Villa but Villa’s shot went straight into the keeper’s arms. Spain played out the remaining few minutes to record a hard fought victory.
Paraguay head home but can look back with pride at how they have faired at the World Cup. They put up a brave fight against the European Champions and could’ve pulled off an upset on another day. Spain march on but will have to put up a far better performance if they are to stand a chance against an in form Germany in the semi final.
The Hard Tackle’s Player of the Match:
Iker Casillas (Spain)
Apart from the fumble he made in the dying moments of the game, the Spainish captain put ina flawless performance that ensured his team’s progression into the next round. He made a wonderful penalty save and then followed that up with a remarkable reaction save to deny Paraguay an equalizer.
The Hard Tackle’s Referee Report Card:
Carlos Batres (Guatemala) Grade: B-
Slightly fussy when it came to the penalties and set pieces, the Guatemalan referee had a decent game though a few of his decisions were slightly questionable.
PARAGUAY 0-1 SPAIN
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Paraguay Line-Up: Justo Villar, Antolin Alcaraz, Paulo Da Silva, Claudio Morel Rodriguez, Dario Veron, Cristian Riveros, Victor Caceres (84′ Lucas Barrios), Jonathan Santana, Edgar Barreto (64′ Enrique Vera), Oscar Cardozo, Nelson Haedo Valdez (73′ Roque Santa Cruz)
Manager: Gerardo Martino
Caution: Antolin Alcaraz (59′), Victor Caceres (59′), Claudio Morel Rodriguez (71′), Jonathan Santana (88′)
Spain Line-Up: Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol (84′ Carlos Marchena) , Sergio Ramos, Joan Capdevila, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso (75′ Pedro), Xavi, Iniesta, David Villa, Fernando Torres (56′ Cesc Fabregas)
Caution: Gerard Pique (57′), Sergio Busquets (63′)
Scorer: David Villa (83′)