A 63rd-minute David Villa goal proved enough for Spain to beat Portugal and reach the quarter-finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The highly-anticipated meeting between these Iberian rivals, the first in six years, lived up to expectations, certainly in the first half when Carlos Queiroz’s side were unlucky not to be rewarded for their endeavour in Cape Town. La Roja were dominant after the break, however, and El Guaje’s close-range finish ensured they will now meet Paraguay for a place in the last four.
Both teams went into the match protecting proud records, with Spain having won 29 of their last 31 matches. Portugal were on a 19-match undefeated run dating back to November 2008, with 20 clean sheets in 24 matches since Queiroz assumed their reins.
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque named an unchanged side from the one that beat Chile in their final group game, with the inclusion of Xabi Alonso allaying initial fears that an ankle injury would prevent his inclusion. Portugal, conversely, were forced into two changes as injuries to forward Danny and defender Duda afforded starts to Atletico Madrid’s Simao and Hugo Almeida of Werder Bremen.
A high-tempo opening saw Fernando Torres unleash a goal-bound shot that Eduardo did well to parry away, before it was the turn of the in-form Villa to warm the hands of the Portuguese goalkeeper. It was far from one-way traffic, and Tiago’s drive from 30 metres was only palmed into the air by Iker Casillas, with Almeida seemingly set to head into an empty net only for the Spain captain to recover and push the ball to safety at the midway point of the first half.
Soon after, Cristiano Ronaldo unleashed a venomous long-range free-kick which Casillas could again only parry, with the ball somewhat fortuitously avoiding a host of lurking attackers. It was proving an uncomfortable opening period for the Real Madrid custodian, who was captaining La Roja for a record 51st time, surpassing goalkeeping predecessor Andoni Zubizarreta at the head of the list.
The early energy gave way to a slightly more measured pace, with Portugal having the better of the latter exchanges in the opening half. A Seleção das Quinas seemingly resumed where they had left off after the interval. Tiago burst down the left flank with an impressive turn of speed, and his cross looped off the knee of Carles Puyol and over Casillas, only to narrowly bounce the wrong side of the post.
Spain’s pedigree soon started to shine through and on the hour mark, substitute Fernando Llorente directed a diving header straight at a relieved Eduardo. Within 60 seconds Villa grazed the post with a curling drive, with the momentum having well and truly changed hands. Then came what proved to be the game’s only goal. Xavi flicked a short pass from Andres Iniesta to Villa, whose shot was blocked by Eduardo. However, the rebound fell kindly back into the path of Villa who guided the ball home off the underside of the bar.
Spain controlled possession thereafter, as Portugal broke sporadically in their quest to save their South Africa 2010 campaign. Spanish defender Sergio Ramos came within inches of a rare goal after a strong run and shot on the right only to see the impressive Eduardo stick out a strong right hand and turn the ball narrowly around the post. Having joined Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain and Robert Vittek of Slovakia on four goals at the front of the race for the adidas Golden Boot, Villa was looking to go one better, and his thunderbolt from 30 metres would surely have found the net had it been marginally either side of Eduardo.
Portugal’s stand-out player Ronaldo was kept largely quiet with a late red card to Ricardo Costa compounding the misery. Two principal stars delivered decisive performances for the victors with Budweiser Man of the Match Xavi making a significant contribution as his side enjoyed 61 per cent of the possession, while Villa left Green Point Stadium having settled the outcome.