Spain 1-0 Paraguay
Attendance – 55, 359
David Villa struck his fifth goal of the tournament to send Spain into an intriguing semi-final showdown with Germany, in what will be a repeat of the 2008 European Championship final.
Spain celebrate reaching the semi-finals
The goal came with just seven minutes remaining and rescued Spain from an embarrassing exit, after a surprisingly lacklustre and timid display. Anders Iniesta fed Pedro, whose low shot cannoned off the upright, fortunately rebounding to Villa, who composed himself before curling his shot off the inside of the post and across the line and in off the other post.
Villa’s strike arrived after a bizarre turn of events, which saw both sides miss penalties within the space of two second-half minutes. Oscar Cardozo fired low, but saw his spot-kick saved well by Iker Casillas, which was replicated moments later by Xabi Alonso, when Justo Villar got down well to save his re-taken penalty.
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque elected to stick with the same eleven that defeated Portugal, meaning the out-of-sorts Fernando Torres continued upfront. Paraguay, on the other hand made six changes to their side following their penalty success over Japan in the last round, most notably the front three were all replaced to freshen up the South American’s attack.
It was Paraguay who settled the quicker and created an early opening within 60 seconds, Jonathan Santana shooting straight at Casillas from the edge of the box. Spain struggled to find their passing rhythm and were being pressed extensively, highlighted by Nelson Valdez’s charge-down of keeper Casillas’ attempted clearance. Another half-chance fell to the Paraguayans in the 9th minute, as Cristian Riveros found space in the box, but failed to direct his header on target.
The Spanish were being frustrated by the organised Paraguayan team, and a teasing, long free-kick nearly created an opening once more. Antolin Alcaraz drifted unmarked at the back post, but the cross was just too high.
It took until the 26th minute for Spain to spark into life, as Xavi and Iniesta combined well in midfield to unleash Villa down the left; he burst past his man and looked for a cut-back, but only picked out a Paraguayan defender, who cleared to safety.
Spain had a passage of good play around the half-hour mark as they began to find their feet. A wonderful effort from Xavi very nearly opened the scoring, a firm pass into his feet flicked up nicely for him to turn and volley goalwards, but his looping effort just cleared Villar’s crossbar.
Paraguay displayed their threat once more soon after, when Valdez controlled and finished a diagonal ball from the right, only to be denied by the assistant referee’s flag for offside. Valdez was certainly not offside, but strike partner Cardozo was, although only becoming active when jumping to try and reach the cross.
Nelson Valdez fires past Casillas – ruled out for offside
As Spain trudged towards half-time with not a single shot on target to their name, Valdez fired a further warning shot as he ran at and took on Carlos Puyol, before lashing a shot high and wide from 20 yards out to signal the end of a disappointing half.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first had finished, with Paraguay pressing and remaining organised and Spain generously conceding possession far more often than they are akin to. Del Bosque responded by hauling off the uninspiring Torres once more and introducing Cesc Fabregas before the hour-mark was upon us.
The contest finally came to life, with a bang, as back-to-back penalty drama injected some much needed spark into a match that lacked entertainment. It was Paraguay’s turn first, upon winning their first corner of the match; Gerard Pique chose to get a tight grip on Cardozo, before contriving to blatantly drag him down in the box. Pique was rightly cautioned as referee Batres pointed to the spot. Cardozo dusted himself down to take the spot-kick himself, but saw his low effort well saved by Casillas, the Benfica man left devastated by his squandered opportunity.
Oscar Cardozo rues his penalty miss
Bizarrely, only 2 minutes later Batres was extending his arm in the direction of the penalty spot again, this time against Paraguay. Villa had raced through on goal, only to be held and then tripped as he tried to shoot by the desperate Alcaraz, who fortuitously only saw yellow for his challenge.
Up stepped Xabi Alonso, the Real Madrid man coolly tucked home the penalty to fire Spain ahead… Hang on, there’s more. The referee ordered a re-take as the Spanish players were adjudged to have encroached into the penalty area, ironically replays showed marginal proof of this crime, but in fact the encroachment for Cardozo’s penalty was much greater, yet on that occasion was left unpunished.
Alonso directed his re-take low and hard into the opposite corner, but Villar got down brilliantly to deny him. The penalty kick rebounded to Fabregas, who cleverly touched it past the on-rushing Villar, who wiped him out cleanly for what should surely have been a third penalty, but referee Batres didn’t want to see another spot-kick. Amazingly, there was still a chance for Spain, as the ball deflected to Sergio Ramos, who blasted goalwards, but saw his effort cleared off the line by Paulo Da Silva.
Justo Villar denies Xabi Alonso from the re-taken spot-kick
As the tempo of the match rose, Spain improved, with Iniesta going close with a curling effort from the left, which Villar emphatically fisted clear.
A flurry of changes from both teams halted the flow of the match, with Enrique Vera and Roque Santa Cruz entering the fray for Paraguay and Pedro replacing Alonso for Spain.
With seven minutes left the breakthrough finally came, in more dramatic circumstances. Iniesta brilliantly surged forward into the Paraguay last third, committing defenders as he went, he fed Pedro on the right, who saw his shot cannon off the upright. The rebound fell nicely to the feet of Villa, who steadied himself before firing against the post, his shot rolled agonisingly across the goal-line, before hitting the other post and nestling in the net for a quite bizarre goal.
David Villa strikes the match winner
Gerardo Martino made an immediate change, bringing striker Lucas Barrios on for Victor Caceres. Barrios was involved in a late chance for Paraguay as they tried to force extra-time. He ran onto a neat ball over the top, but shot straight at Casillas, however a sloppy fumble bounced out to Santa Cruz, but he was to be denied by an excellent recovery save from the Spanish stopper.
Spain could have wrapped up victory on the break as Pedro fed Villa, but he rather scuffed his shot and Villar saved comfortably. As injury time ticked away, Ramos received a boot to the head as he bravely stooped to head clear, and it was Paraguay who were soon given the boot, as a dramatic second half was brought to a close.
Spain – Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Puyol (Marchena, 84), Capdevila, Busquets, Alonso (Pedro, 75), Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Torres (Fabregas, 56)
Booked – Pique, Busquets
Paraguay – Villar, Veron, Morel, Da Silva, Alcaraz, Barreto (Vera, 64), Santana, Caceres (Barrios, 84), Riveros, Cardozo, Valdez (Santa Cruz, 72)
Booked – Morel, Alcaraz, Santana, Caceres