Spain took on Portugal in one of the most highly anticipated encounters in the round-of-sixteen. Spain, after a slow start to the World Cup, were finally looking like serious title contenders while the Portuguese had come through the ‘Group of Death’ without conceding a single goal and had the dangerous Cristiano Ronaldo within their ranks. It all pointed to an exciting encounter at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.
Spain went in with the same line up that featured against Chile with meant that Xabi Alonso, having recovered from the ankle sprain he suffered in the previous game, started in his customary mid field role. Portugal on the other hand made one change to the team that played against Brazil, opting to go for the experience of Simao in place of Duda.
The game started off in a frenzy with Spain, looking to take an early lead, getting their first shot on goal in just the second minute of the game. Fernando Torres, who has had a very disappointing tournament so far, cut in from the left and took a shot on goal with Eduardo diving full length to clear. Just two minutes later, David Villa took a shot from almost the same position as Torres only for Eduardo to make another diving save. Spain were dominating possession and David Villa had another shot on goal a few minutes later as he cut in from the left and shot low and hard to Eduardo’s right which the Portuguese custodian did well to gather.
After a frantic start, the game slowed down with Spain dominating possession, looking for a way past a resolute Portuguese defense. Fernando Torres was looking far more dangerous, getting into good positions only to be denied in the final third. Just when it looked as if Spain had settled down into a nice rhythm, Portugal got their first chance of the game. The hugely impressive Coentrao made a brilliant run down the left flank and passed the ball to Tiago who, with space infront of him, took a good shot on goal which Iker Casillas could only parry. The parried shot looped up towards goal and Casillas had to rush back to deny Hugo Almeida who almost got the better of the Spanish keeper.
The remainder of the first half was rather uneventful with Spain dominating possession but unable to break down the resolute Portuguese defense and the Portuguese content with sitting back and relying on the counter. Spain had one last chance to score in the dying moments of the half with Iniesta winning the ball off a Portuguese defender and playing it to Torres who only managed to run into Ricardo Carvalho. With that, a rather disappointing first half came to a close with neither team taking the initiative.
Spain started the second half just as they had the first with a flurry of attacking moves only to be denied by the Portuguese defenders. For all of Spain’s attacking intent, it was Portugal who had the first opportunity of the second half in the 50th minute. A fantastic counter saw Hugo Almeida sprint past Gerard Pique on the left hand side. His attempted cross hit Carles Puyol on the knee and looped dangerously past the right hand post.
Spain went back to passing the ball around in an attempt to lure the Portuguese players out of position but the Portuguese defense stood strong as the Spanish looked for an opening. With the game going nowhere, both managers decided to change things with Fernando Torres making way for Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente while Danny came on for Hugo Almeida.
The substitution almost brought immediate results for Spain as a wonderful Ramos cross found Llorente unmarked in the box but the lanky striker’s diving header was hit straight at Eduardo who reacted quickly to parry the ball away. Spain suddenly came to life as David Villa went extremely close just a minute later. His curling effort skidded agonizingly wide of the post. With Portugal under immense pressure, the defense finally broke in the 63rd minute. Some lovely play between Iniesta and Ramos found the former at the edge of the Portugal penalty area with the ball at his feet. Iniesta dodged two Portuguese defenders before passing the ball to Xavi who produced a brilliant back heel to put David Villa through on goal. His first shot was poor but the rebound fell straight to him and he slotted it home at the second attempt to give Spain a well deserved lead.
Ramos had a chance to double the lead just 7 minutes later as he skipped past Coentrao but his low angled drive was saved brilliantly by Eduardo. With a one goal lead and the game under their control, Spain dominated possession with some crisp passing. The Portuguese, already reeling under the pressure, were unable to get the ball of the Spanish players. David Villa was in the mood for some more goals as he collected a Sergio Ramos pass and took a powerful shot from 25 yards out which the impressive Eduardo could only parry for a corner.
The Portuguese were looking completely devoid of ideas by this time as Spain maintained possession in a bid to frustrate their opponents. Things got even worse for Portugal as Ricardo Costa was sent off in the 89th minute for what was deemed as an elbow into Joan Capdevila’s face. Replays suggested that the Portuguese right back was slightly unlucky as the decision was rather harsh. With the clock winding down, Portugal made a desperate attempt to get the elusive goal but to no avail as Spain held on for the victory.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Left to rue what might have been
The defeat meant that another star makes his exit with Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portuguese team mates left to rue what might have been while Spain move into the quarter finals and a show down with Paraguay.
The Hard Tackle’s Player of the Match:
David Villa (Spain)
‘El Guaje’ was at it again as he notched up his fourth goal of the campaign. A constant threat down the left, Villa has certainly lit this tournament up. With four goals to his name, he joins Gonzalo Higuain and Robert Vittek on top of the goal scoring chart. He has certainly demonstrated why many consider him the best striker in the world.
The Hard Tackle’s Referee Report Card:
Hector Baldassi (Argentina): Grade: B-
While it was admirable that referee was interested in allowing a flowing game of football, some of his decisions were rather poor. There were moments in the game where he needed to award a freekick, stop play and talk to the offending party but he chose to waive play on. His decision to send off Ricardo Costa was probably his biggest mistake as replays suggested the player barely made any contact. On the whole, a rather average performance from the referee.
SPAIN 1-0 PORTUGAL
Venue: Green Point Stadium, Cape Town
Spain Line-Up: Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Joan Capdevila, Xabi Alonso (90′ Carlos Marchena), Sergio Busquets, Xavi,David Villa (88′ Pedro), Fernando Torres (59′ Fernando Llorente), Andres Iniesta
Manager: Vicente Del Bosque
Caution: Xabi Alonso (74′)
Scorer: David Villa (63′)
Portugal Line-Up: Eduardo, Bruno Alves, Ricardo Carvalho, Fabio Coentrao, Ricardo Costa, Pepe (72′ Pedro Mendes), Raul Meireles, Tiago, Simao (72′ Liedson), Hugo Almeida (59′ Danny), Cristiano Ronaldo
Manager: Carlos Queiroz
Cautions: Tiago (80′)
Sent-Off: Ricardo Costa (89′)