It was a tough, tough game to decide the fourth spot in the World Cup 2010 semi-finals. Paraguay fought Spain for control of every blade of grass at the Ellis Park pitch. And yet, the winner had to be decided on Saturday, and it simply had to be Spain. The match ended Spain 1, Paraguay 0.
The first minutes of the game shone an immediate light on South American side’s game plan: push Spanish midfielders and strikers away from the goal, make them get nervous and impatient, make them try long balls and crosses instead their deadly short passes. And it almost worked. Paraguayans are not players who wouldn’t die for their country and comrades. Their Argentinian coach, Gerardo Martino, has motivated them well: on Saturday night, they were a team that was very difficult to defeat.
The Spaniards found this out early in the game, but there was little they could do with David Villa playing behind the much-fancied, but still recovering from injury, Fernando Torres. Early in the second half, after nothing had changed, Spanish coach Del Boske finally had enough and put all his chips on Villa as the front attacker and brought Fabregas behind him, replacing Torres.
And yet, there was still plenty of game left to be played and drama to be seen. Back-to-back penalties for both teams ended up being saved by Casillas and Villar. First Alonso’s penalty got cancelled by the Guatemalan referee, while the second saw Villar commit a clear penalty on Fabregas as he was to score on the rebound. It took loot of self-control to be a supporter of both sides and not to have a heart attack during these less than three minutes, when all of it happened.
Photo: Paraguay’s Enrique Vera (L) and team mate Claudio Morel (R) cry as they leave the field after their 2010 World Cup quarter-final soccer match against Spain at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg July 3, 2010. Spain won 1-0. REUTERS/David Gray
Even the goal Spaniards scored happened only after the ball had time to think about finding the truth about life, the universe and everything, hitting the posts three times and only then deciding it might be a good idea to stop its journey in the back of the net. It was brutal.
After outlasting Paraguay, Spain is now due to meet the rampaging Germans in the semi-finals on Wednesday in Durban. It is going to be a fascinating game. Less chess, more football, we hope.
Here are the reporter’s notes.
Paraguay: Justo Villar, Darío Verón, Paulo da Silva, Antolín Alcaraz, Claudio Morel, Jonathan SantanamVíctor Caceres, Edgar Barreto, Cristián Riveros, Oscar Cardozo, Nelson Valdez
Spain: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, David Villa, Fernando Torres
Men of the match
Justo Villar, Iker Casillas
- 3rd minute: A rough tackle by Santana. The shape of things to come?
- 11th minute: Morel’s long-range free kick is, uhm, a wayward one.
Spain has started the game in a subdued mood. By the 17th minute, the audience is already doing Mexican waves. Things are not very interesting at Ellis Park so far.
- 27th minute: The first threat by the Spaniards as Villa creates havoc on the left-hand side, only to see his cross deflected into corner that produced nothing.
- 28th minute: Xavi, in a beautiful display of skill, tries to lob Villar but his shot ends up just above crossbar. Shame.
- 33rd minute: Free kick for Spain from 28 metres: Capdevila’s shot was deflected straight into Villar’s arms.
- 34th minute: Promising counter-attack by Spain ended with Torres not reaching Iniesta’s cross.
- 35th minute: The Paraguayans return favour with Santana missing the fast cross by Morel.
- 36th minute: Villa’s low shot from the left side of the penalty box shot is depressingly wide. He is not looking very confident today.
- 41st minute: Valdez scores for the Paraguayans but Cardozo, who was next to him, is judged offside. Spanish supporters are breathing again.
- 46th minute: From the counter-attack, Valdez is free to shoot, but he finds only the supporters on the seat far behind Casillas’s goal.
The first half of the game was a gigantic bore. The Paraguayan team has managed to push the Spaniards far from the penalty box and forced them to try long balls instead of their normal free-flowing, short pass game. At the same time, Paraguayan players are quite menacing in their counter-attacks and it is not at all inconceivable that they would eventually score.
The game started very much where it ended, with Spain not being able to organise their game under pressure from South American midfielders. This game is frustrating for Spain.
- 51st minute: For the first time in the second half, Spain are in the Paraguayan box, but Villa is harmless tonight.
Spain are not connecting at all tonight. It is difficult to recognise this otherwise wonderful team. The Paraguayans have lowered the temperature of the game to a level that makes it almost impossible for Spain not to hibernate.
- 56th minute: Torres is coming off for Fabregas. Will the Arsenal captain be more successful in waking up his team?
- 57th minute: Penalty for Paraguay and a yellow card for Pique! He pulled Cardozo by the arm and the Guatemalan referee didn’t have much choice.
- 58th minute: Casillas saves Cardozo’s penalty! Spanish supporters are back to life.
Photo: Paraguay’s Oscar Cardozo sees his penalty saved by Spain’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas during their 2010 World Cup quarter-final soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg July 3, 2010. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen
- 59th minute: Villa is brought down in the Paraguayan penalty box and a penalty is now given to Spain! What a reversal of fortunes!
- 60th minute: Alonso scores but he has to take it again because of Villa’s encroachment. Villar saves the retake! In the chaos erupting over the rebound, Villar bring Fabregas down in what deserves to be another penalty.
- 62nd minute: Two corners for Spain after their missed penalty produce nothing.
In the minutes after the high penalty drama for both teams, Spain appears to be regaining some of their flair. Having Villa right up front and Fabregas just behind him have unsettled Paraguayan defences somewhat. And yet, no major chances for both teams. Lots of huffing and puffing, though.
- 74th minute: Iniesta almost penetrates the defensive wall on the left side, but his cross is deflected to corner.
- 75th minute: Uncharacteristically, the Paraguayans hand Xavi a clear scoring opportunity from the edge of the box, but his shot disappoints.
As the game nears the end of the regulation time, both defences are now starting to show signs of porousness. Maybe that will create opening for both sets of attackers.
- 83rd minute: Villa scores!!! Again, he comes to Spain’s salvation! Iniesta weaved his magic through the Paraguayan centre-halves, passing a great pass to Pedro, who from the ideal position hits the post. The rebound landed straight into Villa’s feet. Not to make it simple, Villa’s shot hits both posts before deciding to end in the net.
- 89th minute: Casillas saves Barios’s strong shot somewhat clumsily and then bravely stops Santa Cruiz’s rebound. In the counter-attack, Villa’s shot felt almost certain to hit the net, but Villar was up to the task.
- 93rd minute: The Spanish players have managed to calm the Paraguayans down in the final moments of the game.
- 94th minute: Ends. Spain is in the semi-finals!
By Branko Brkic
Main photo: Spain’s David Villa (L) celebrates his goal next to Cesc Fabregas during the 2010 World Cup quarter-final soccer match against Paraguay at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg July 3, 2010. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
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