Spain's patience wins against doughty Paraguay
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There was ecstasy in Madrid Saturday evening, after Spain broke through to the World Cup semi-final for the first time for 60 years. The 1-0 victory over Paraguay saw patience win out.
Spain nudged their way into the semi-finals with a patient display against a doughty Paraguay fomation.
The poor form of Fernando Torres remains a concern but its significance will be masked while his strike partner David Villa continues to terrorise defences.
He plundered his fifth goal of the competition to take his country into its first semi-final for 60 years. And it owed everything to the enduring intelligence of Andres Iniesta.
As the Barcelona midfield maestro bore down on goal, the Paraguay defenders were caught between waiting for him to pass or shoot. Two came for him and he slid the the ball into space for Barca team mate Pedro. His shot beat Justo Villar but hit his right-hand post and rebounded to the scavenging Villa whose follow up hit the left-hand post, rolled across the goalmouth onto the other post and in.
It was a goal that bore the stamp of the Nou Camp and was a fitting reward for Spain’s belief in their short passing game.
That system might have unravelled had Oscar Cardozo converted his penalty just before the hour mark.
The Benfica forward was wrestled to the ground by Gerard Piqué while waiting for a free kick.
Cardozo drove low and hard to the left of Iker Casillas but the Real Madrid keeper was down quick to block the shot.
Within seconds at the other end, Villa was tripped in the box. Xabi Alonso stepped up and thrashed it home but as he headed off to soak up the applause, referee Carlos Batres ordered a retake for encroachment. This time Villar saved low to his left.
It was a fascinating augur for a penalty shoot-out.
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino set out a side that seemed to be playing for the odds of such a scenario.
Edgar Barreto and Cristian Riveros were men on a mission to harry and haunt Spain’s midfield technicians. They were relentless in their pressing patrols and when bypassed the defenders were too organised to break down.
The tactic forced Vicente del Bosque to make changes. He lost patience with Torres 10 minutes into the second half replacing him with Cesc Fabregas who played just behind Villa.
It brought the Spaniards more fluidity as the extra seconds needed to weave their patterns.
With a quarter of an hour left Xabi Alonso was withdrawn for Pedro who immediately injected the trickery and menace lacking in Torres.
Martino added the height of Roque Santa Cruz as his final gambit in the search for the equaliser but his team rarely had the ball. And when they did, they squandered possession.
With Spain next playing Germany, Europe will have at least one country in next Sunday’s showdown at Soccer City. If the Netherlands eliminate Uruguay, it will provide both finalists just like four years ago in Germany.
Billions of dollars have been spent to bring the games to Africa for the first time. The venue may have changed but the song remains the same.
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