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FIFA World Cup: Spain edge past Paraguay in a game of missed penalties

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villa_xavi.jpgAn 82nd minute winner from David Villa was enough to carry Spain through to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup and send Paraguay crashing out in the last of the quarter-finals played at the Ellis Park Stadium on Saturday. A sluggish game was brought to life at the hour mark after Oscar Cardozo was hacked down in the box to give Paraguay a penalty. Iker Casillas though, saved the spot-kick before Justo Villar sensationally repeated the feat at the other end for Paraguay, minutes later.

The game looked set to go beyond regular time then, but Villa's effort following a darting run from Andres Iniesta was enough to take Spain through.

Vicente Del Bosque's decision to persist with the out-of-form Fernando Torres meant that Spain fielded an unchanged side from the one that beat Portugal in the second round. With Villa and Torres patrolling the front, Iniesta was left with a free role behind them, while Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets did the holding midfield duties. Paraguay, on the other hand, had been struggling for goals forcing them to make a host of changes, which included a completely re-drafted frontline. Nelson Valdez and Oscar Cardozo replaced Roque Santa Cruz and Lucas Barrios at the top while Jonathan Santana was brought into the midfield.

The changes seemed to be working almost immediately as Paraguay made a plucky start with Santana getting a low shot on goal in the first minute, only for Casillas to safely pouch it.It took long for Spain to wake from their slumber and with not much going their way in the first 15 minutes, their was no real goalmouth action to speak of. They slowly managed to create some pressure thanks to their possession, and with both Villa and Torres making darting runs into the box, the tempo of their game gradually lifted. Xavi was the creator of the first real chance in the 28th minute, sending in a dipping volley just over the bar after receiving the ball from a free-kick.

Iniesta was tripped soon after by Morel, though Capdevila's resulting shot went straight to Villar. Ramos then earned a corner which again came to nothing as Spain struggled to impose their superior quality on the game.

Paraguay, in turn, took their chances on the counter and could have got a goal when Valdez put a cross into the net only for Cardozo to be harshly adjudged offside. Valdez once again broke through on a counter-attack at the stroke of halftime, and having tricked his way past Puyol, should have atleast managed a shot on target.

The second half got off to an excruciatingly slow start with both sides failing to create any real chances of note. Torres yet again failed to create an impact and Del Bosque was forced to put him out his misery in the 55th minute, getting in Cesc Fabregas instead. Paraguay got a corner soon after and when Pique tugged down Cardozo in the box, a dramatic period of play followed!

Casillas pulled off a brilliant save off Cardozo's spot-kick, diving towards his left to deny Paraguay the opener. Almost seconds later, Villa found himself through on goal and it was Spain's turn to get a penalty after the striker was felled by Alcaraz. Up stepped Xabi Alonso who coolly slotted home with his first effort, only to be forced to re-take thanks to Puyol running into the box early. Villar made good use of the second chance, to pull out a diving save, as the game remained level 0-0 amidst the high drama.

Iniesta then sent in a curling shot at the Paraguayan goal, for Villar to produce another excellent save, as both the keepers suddenly found themselves thrust in the thick of action. While Enrique Vera and Roque Santa Cruz came in for Paraguay, Del Bosque got in the dangerous Pedro in place of Alonso in search of the winning goal.

iniesta_celebrates.jpgWith the game drifting away towards extra-time, Spain finally managed to put together an elusive winner. It took a superb run on the edge of the box from Andres Iniesta, who laid the ball off to Pedro, for the latter to strike the base of the post. The rebound fell to Villa, whose shot hit both the posts before finally trickling over to the delight of the Spanish fans.

The final minutes required one more special effort from Casillas, when he saved off the rebound from Santa Cruz, having fumbled Lucas Barrios' first time effort. Spain then held through the final three minutes of injury-time even as the referee refused to call an early end to set up a tantalizing semi-final date with Germany.

Although Spain won, Del Bosque should be worried by the time it took for Spain to break a resoulte Paraguay down. Torres' lack of form also remains a burning concern, and Del Bosque might just decide to leave the striker out for the semi-final to accomodate Fernando Llorente or Cesc Fabregas instead. Puyol's late substitution which looked like an injury can also be a headache for Spain going into the Germany game.

Gerardo Martino's squad, on the other hand, can head back with pride after having led Paraguay to their first ever quarter-finals at the World Cup. Benfica striker Oscar Cardozo was left inconsolable at the end of the game, but Martino would be well aware that the squad has good potential in them to go a long way four years from now in Brazil. Going by Germany's demolition of Argentina in today's earlier game, Spain will have to be at their absolute best against the rampaging Germans if we are to witness a classic on Wednesday, the 7th of July at the Durban Stadium!

The Teams:

Spain: Casillas (GK), Puyol (Marchena 84'), Pique, Capdevila, Ramos, Busquets, Alonso (Pedro 75'), Xavi, Villa, Torres (Fabregas 56'), Iniesta.

Paraguay: Villar (GK), Alcaraz, Da Silva, Rodriguez, Veron, Caceres (Barrios 84'), Riveros, Baretto (Vera 64'), Valdez (Santa Cruz 73'), Cardozo, Santana.

Final Score: Spain 1-0 Paraguay (David Villa 82')

Also Read:

Netherlands 2 - 1 Brazil (Match Report)

Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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