Once again the 28-year-old proved to be the decisive player for La Roja.
Spain defeated Portugal 1-0 at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Tuesday night to qualify for the quarterfinals of the World Cup. A second half strike from David Villa was enough for the European champions to see of the challenge of their Iberian rival in the last-16 encounter. Portugal's Ricardo Costa was sent off late in the game.
Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso recovered from an ankle problem to start against Portugal on Tuesday night. Coach Vicente del Bosque maintained his faith in striker Fernando Torres too despite the Liverpool hitman failing to shine in the World Cup so far.
Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz deployed Pepe in defensive midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo and Simao on the wings. Hugo Almeida was the central striker for the Euro 2004 finalists.
It was Spain who started the brighter of the two sides as they had their first shot on the Portuguese goal as early as the second minute.
Center-back Gerard Pique instigated the move on the right side as he played Xavi in central midfield position. The Barcelona medio spread the ball wide to the left to Sergio Ramos, who then played Torres but the Liverpool hitman’s shot on goal was palmed away by Portugal goalkeeper Eduardo.
A minute later David Villa attempted a long-range effort from a narrow angle on the left but once again Eduardo stood up to the challenge.
Villa tried to repeat his trick in the seventh minute when he collected a Xavi pass on the left, cut inside and took a low right-footed shot on the Portugal goal. But once again the newly signed Barcelona striker was thwarted by Eduardo.
Portugal had failed to make any meaningful forays into the Spain half so far but on 10 minutes star player Cristiano Ronaldo did attempt to create an opening. The Real Madrid player ran down the right and floated in a cross, which, though, was too far away for Almeida.
Three minutes later it was the European champions’ chance to threaten the Portuguese citadel as Xavi’s short corner was shot by Torres on goal on the spin from inside the penalty area. However, the former Atletico Madrid forward’s attempt went over the crossbar.
Spain continued to dominate possession and territory with Portugal restricted to hopeful crosses. In the 19th minute La Roja had their opponents in a fix when Ramos released Torres on the right who swung in a quick cross. However, there was no one in a red shirt to head home the cross.
A couple of minutes later Portugal had their first shot on target and could have actually taken the lead. Tiago was afforded too much time and space on the ball outside the Spain penalty box and took a stinging shot on goal. Casillas could only push it upwards and barely scrambled the ball away as Almeida rushed in to head it home.
The Group H winners propelled themselves into another attack in the 24th minute when a marching Ramos passed the ball to Andres Iniesta just outside the box. But the midfielder’s through ball aimed to find Villa went out for a goalkick. A minute later Xavi tried to put Villa through on goal but again the pass was too heavy.
However, Portugal could have taken the lead against the run of play in the 28th minute when Ronaldo’s straightforward freekick was wobbled over by Casillas before being finally put to safety.
A minute later Villa went for a cross-shot from the left but saw the ball end on the roof of the Portugal net. Moments afterwards Xavi went for goal himself from around 20 yards but couldn’t keep his shot on target.
Spain kept on trying to breach the Portugal citadel but the latter threw themselves at everything that even remotely threatened them. However, in the 39th minute it was Queiroz's side who could have taken the lead when Raul Meireles crafted a wonderfully floated ball into the Spain penalty area only for Almeida to head the ball wide despite out-jumping Joan Capdevila.
Portugal had two quick chances after that. First, in the 42nd minute Simao was almost sent through on goal on a quick counter but Casillas came out of his area to clear the danger. Moments later Fabio Coentrao delivered a dangerous cross into the area that Tiago fiercely headed towards Casillas’s goal but couldn’t find the target.
In the dying seconds, Torres had a chance but he was foiled by Portugal center-back Ricardo Carvalho.
Spain started the second half on an attacking mode as Torres tried to march along the left side. However, he was tackled by Coentrao.
On 52 minutes Ramos galloped down the right and delivered a ball towards Xabi Alonso, who was however beaten to the header by Tiago. The move continued, though, as Xavi tried to find Torres only to see the ball reach Eduardo.
Portugal then launched a counter-attack as Almeida whipped in a cross that was almost put into his own net by Carles Puyol as he protruded his knee to block the cross.
It became end-to-end action after that as Ramos and Xavi tried to play a one-two but failed. At the other end Casillas was forced to punch out a ball.
A minute before the hour mark Spain coach Vicente del Bosque brought on Fernando Llorente in place of Fernando Torres and the change almost made immediate impact. Ramos swung in a brilliant cross from the right that Llorente stooped to head into the Portugal net, but his header went straight to Eduardo.
Spain were the side imposing the most pressure at this point of time and the World Cup favorites eventually scored in the 63rd minute. A neat interplay among the Spanish players in tight spaces saw David Villa receive the ball on the left side of the box. His first attempt on the Portugal goal was blocked by Eduardo but the former Valencia striker made no mistake from the rebound.
La Furia Roja were clearly the side looking more likely to score the second goal of the night as Xavi and Capdevila both ventured forward. Indeed, the Spaniards could have netted in the 70th minute when right-back Ramos cut inside from the right and took an attempt on the Portugal goal with his left foot. Eduardo did just enough to parry it away.
Villa, who had earlier scored his fourth goal of the World Cup in South Africa, could have added to his tally on 77 minutes when he went for an audacious 30-yard attempt on goal that Eduardo once again punched away.
Spain continued to suffocate Portugal of space and possession. Things turned from bad to worse for the Portuguese when Ricardo Costa was sent off for elbowing Capdevila in the face on 88 minutes. Deep into injury time Portugal came close to stealing the equalizer but the Spanish defenders stood strong as Spain deservedly reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
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