Spain 1 - 0 Portugal: Villa strikes again to sink Portugal
SPAIN'S crusade to add the World Cup trophy to their Euro 2008 title continued last night with a closely-fought last-16 win against their Iberian neighbours Portugal.
Vicente Del Bosque's side dominated on the ball as usual but were frustrated for long periods by Portugal, who had decent chances of their own at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium.
Ultimately Spain's patience paid off, however, as David Villa's 63rd-minute goal secured victory exactly two years to the day since their European triumph in Austria.
They will now fancy themselves in a quarter-final clash with modest South Americans Paraguay while Portugal - who had Ricardo Costa dismissed in the final minute - face a disappointing trip home.
Fernando Torres, without a goal in South Africa, tested Portugal goalkeeper Eduardo after just a minute and strike partner Villa also forced an early save.
The lively start continued when Villa, coming in from the left again, fired in a low effort which Eduardo stopped smartly.
Another Torres shot from a short corner was not too far over the bar but for all Spain's dominance, he and Villa were largely restricted to playing out wide.
Portugal had perhaps the best chance so far in the 20th minute. Midfielder Tiago tried his luck from the edge of the box and after Iker Casillas could only push it high into the air, he had to scramble it away near his own goal-line.
Xavi and Villa tried their luck at the other end before Spain team-mate Xabi Alonso saw a couple of long-range attempts stifled. Portugal had a clear chance in the 39th minute when Almeida was unable to properly connect with Raul Meireles' cross, to the disappointment of a better-placed Cristiano Ronaldo behind him.
Casillas raced out to halt Simao's run at goal before Tiago headed over a good chance.
Seven minutes into the second half Spain defender Gerard Pique was outpaced by Almeida down the left and when the Werder Bremen striker's attempted centre deflected off Carles Puyol's thigh, the defender was relieved to see the ball go narrowly wide.
Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz sent Danny on for Almeida while Vicente Del Bosque sacrificed Torres for target man Fernando Llorente just before the hour mark.
In the 60th minute there was nearly an immediate impact as Llorente's diving header from Sergio Ramos' cross was somehow saved by Eduardo at point-blank range, before Villa curled one just wide.
The breakthrough came seconds later. Typically intricate build-up play saw Andres Iniesta feed Xavi who backheeled beautifully to the on-rushing Villa. The striker saw his first shot saved well by Eduardo but hammered the rebound high into the net.
Eduardo then got down brilliantly to turn away Ramos' drive from the right before Queiroz sent on striker Liedson and midfielder Pedro Mendes.
Again Eduardo was called upon to parry a shot, this time from Villa, while at the other end Portugal talisman Ronaldo was dreadfully quiet.
Villa's cross enabled Llorente to head just wide before the goalscorer was taken off for a rest, replaced by Pedro. Danny had a dangerous-looking shot blocked well by Pique but moments later Portugal were down to 10 men when referee Hector Baldassi suddenly produced a red card, for defender Costa, for apparently lashing out at Joan Capdevila.
Speaking afterwards about his goal, Villa said: "It was one of my best goals because it got us through to the next round. Keep scoring so we can keep going."
Ronaldo, the world's most expensive player, showed only rare flashes of brilliance at the tournament, however. "We believed that he can do it," Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz said. "He is our leader, our captain."
Meanwhile, in the Spanish domestic scene, Real Madrid and Barcelona could be forced out of La Liga if they refuse to negotiate a fairer distribution of money from television rights, Sevilla president Jose Maria del Nido has said. Spain's top two divisions started a series of meetings this month to discuss the possibility of creating a separate first division similar to the English Premier League, but Del Nido said a number of clubs were at odds with Real and Barca.
"The clubs have to impose on the big two the conditions in
play and if they don't accept them, no problem, we will have a league of 18 teams and they will have a magnificent one of two,"
Del Nido was quoted as saying on the club website. "This is a cake in which everyone participates and our decision will be radical. "It is our responsibility to make sure it (the league) doesn't become a fight between only two teams." Barca pipped Real to the La Liga title last month, both breaking the previous points record for a season with third-placed Valencia a distant 25 points behind Real.
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