They started the World Cup with a shock loss to Swizterland. But Spain, the reigning champions of Europe, have won all three matches since, and booked their berth in the quarterfinals today with a 1-0 victory over Iberian rivals Portugal, who barely got anything of merit out of Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s most expensive footballer. David Villa, recently signed by Barcelona, struck the only goal of the match, firing his own rebound over Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo, who had gone more than 330 minutes at this tournament without conceding before he was beaten.
Spain had controlled most of the possession in this entertaining encounter in Cape Town, the final World Cup match for our correspondent, but it was Portugal who stretched play and created the clear-cut chances in most of the first hour, save for a pair of early Spanish shots against Eduardo. But after Fernando Llorente came on for Fernando Torres and immediately created a headed chance, Spain were in the ascendancy. In the end, Iniesta found Xavi, whose clever backheel freed Villa for the shot and follow-up effort into the roof of the net that sent Portugal packing.
While he’s clearly one of the most special talents in the game today, I’m no fan of Ronaldo and was pleased to see Argentinian referee Hector Baldassi refusing to buy into the foul-seeking floppiness he’s become infamous for. The supremely talented but too-often petulant winger struggled to get touches, whined when the calls didn’t go his way and spat in the direction of a cameraman trailing him off the field at the final whistle. Good riddance.
Having said that, I’ve watched the replays of Ricardo Costa’s late elbow on Joan Capdevilla that resulted in a 88th minute red card from Baldassi, and can’t see why it was a direct red. A bit of dirty play acting from the Spaniard perhaps? I hope not.
Elsewhere, it was a day for cheering with two hands, which meant finding a new place to stash your Blackberry, if you were a fan of Paraguay, who became the fourth South American team to book their spot in the last eight by beating Japan 5-3 on penalties, the first game to be decided in that fashion at this World Cup. After a pretty dire 120 minutes, during which penalties always looked the most likely outcome, La Albirroja converted all five from the spot, with substitute Oscar Cardoza sliding home the clincher to put his team in the last eight for the first time, while Japan’s Yuichi Komano banged his effort off the crossbar, sending the Blue Samurai home in shameful defeat.
So, the quarters are set and we all get a couple of days to catch our breath before the Netherlands face Brazil in Port Elizabeth on Friday morning, with Ghana and Uruguay squaring off at Soccer City in Soweto later that day. Saturday morning brings Argentina vs. Germany in Cape Town, with Spain meeting Paraguay at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium in the late game. I’m going with Ghana and Brazil to emerge on one side of the draw, with Spain and Argentina getting through on the other side, even though by picking against Germany I’m ignoring the choice of Paul the Octopus. He knows his football – that match should be a cracker.