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World Cup post-game : Spain beats Portugal 1-0

European champions Spain won their way into the last eight and a meeting with Paraguay on the back of a powerhouse second-half display though the 1-0 margin meant Portugal remained in the hunt until the final whistle. The highly-anticipated meeting between these Iberian rivals, the first in six years, lived up to expectations, certainly in the first half when Portugal were unlucky not to be rewarded for their endeavour in Cape Town. A lone strike from David Villa on 63 minutes was all that separated the teams though Spain always looking likely winners as soon as they took the lead.

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 across 24 matches since coach Carlos Queiróz assumed the reins.

Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque named an unchanged side from the one that beat Chile in their final group game, with the inclusion of Xavi Alonso allaying initial fears that an ankle injury would prevent his inclusion. Portugal conversely were forced into two change as injuries to striker Danny and midfielder Duda meant Queiroz drafted in Atletico Madrid’s Simao and Werder Bremen’s Hugo Almeida.

A high-energy opening saw firstly Spain striker Fernando Torres aiming a goalbound shot that Eduardo did well to parry away, before it was the turn of the in-form Villa to warm the palms of the Portuguese custodian. It was far from one-way traffic and Tiago’s drive from 30 metres was only palmed into the air by Iker Casillas with Hugo Almeida seemingly set to head into an empty net only for the Spanish captain to recover and palm the ball to safety at the midway point of the first half. Soon after Ronaldo unleashed a venomous long-range free-kick which Casillas could again only parry away with the ball somewhat fortuitously avoiding a host of lurking attackers. It was proving an uncomfortable opening period for the Real Madrid man who was captaining La Roja for a record 51st time, superseding goalkeeping predecessor Andoni Zubizaretta at the head of the list.

The early energy gave away to a slightly more measured pace with Portugal having the better of the latter exchanges in the opening stanza. Portugal seemingly resumed where they had left off after the interval and Tiago burst down the left flank with an impressive turn of speed with his centre looping off the knee of Carles Puyol 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 and the momentum had well and truly changed. Spain scoring the all-important opening goal with a short pass from Andres Iniesta on the edge of the penalty area flicked on by Xavi with Villa converting at the second attempt.

Spain were now dominating midfield possession despite Portugal’s ever desperate attacking endeavours as they looked to save their South Africa 2010 campaign. 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 Slovakia’s Robert Vittek on four goals at the top of the adidas Golden Boot tally with his goal, the Barcelona-bound Villa was looking to go one better and his stunning rocket-like drive from 30 metres would surely have found the net had it been marginally either side of Eduardo.

Star forward Cristiano Ronaldo was largely kept quiet throughout with Ricardo Costa suffering a late red card for an elbow. Spain’s midfielder maestro Xavi was named Budweiser Man of the Match with his influence reflected in the match statistics with Spain recording an impressive 61 per cent of possession.

For more information, visit http://www.fifa.com

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