The goals dried up on the last day of Round of 16 action but that will be of no concern to Spain and Paraguay after they advanced to the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals, the South Americans for the first time in their history.
The previous six last-16 games had produced the highest goals-per-game ratio (3.5) seen since the introduction of this extra knockout stage in 1986 but today gave us just the one, David Villa’s winner for Spain against neighbours Portugal in Cape Town. Fernando Torres may still be recovering full sharpness but Villa has now netted in three straight games and his solitary strike was sufficient to settle a match where Portugal struggled to create clear chances, with Cristiano Ronaldo a largely peripheral figure and Ricardo Costa sent off late on.
Two years to the day since they were crowned European champions, Spain offered a reminder of the threat of the Old Continent after Paraguay had ensured a piece of history for South American football by becoming the fourth CONMEBOL team to reach the last eight thanks to a 5-3 success in these finals’ first penalty shoot-out against Japan. La Albirroja have joined Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay in the quarter-finals, so surpassing the previous record of three South American sides at Mexico 1970.
Without a striker like Villa, Gerardo Martino’s charges have got there on the back of a miserly defence – conceding just one goal – though they had the crossbar to thank when Daisuke Matsui was denied a spectacular breakthrough goal by the woodwork in the first half in Pretoria. Japan had previously caught the eye with their long-range shooting against Denmark, when both Keuisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo struck from free-kicks, suggesting they had mastered the art of striking the Jabulani better than most. However, when it came to scoring from 12 yards, Takeshi Okada’s side fell short, Yuichi Komano’s shot clipping the crossbar. Four Paraguayans had already converted their kicks when Oscar Cardozo stepped up to send La Albirroja through.
Paraguay 0-0 Japan aet, 5-3 pso
Spain 1-0 Portugal
Goal of the day
Spain 1-0 Portugal, David Villa, 63 mins: Barcelona’s “passing carousel” is how Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson refers to it and it eventually unlocked a Portugal back line hitherto unbreached here in South Africa. Andres Iniesta slipped the ball through to Xavi Hernandez and his backheel put Villa, their new colleague at the Camp Nou, clear on the left side of the penalty box. Eduardo was equal to his first effort but Villa scooped the rebound in off the bar for his fourth goal of this FIFA World Cup, drawing him level with Gonzalo Higuain and Robert Vittek atop the scorers’ chart.