No Spanish bomb for Euro champs
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
Spain's Xabi Alonso fights for the ball with Chile's Arturo Vidal during World Cup action at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. (REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)
PRETORIA -- The defending World Cup champions have gone home.
The defending Euro champions were not about to follow suit.
Just one day after Italy was sent packing in a shocking 3-2 loss to Slovakia, David Villa and his Spanish teammates, winners of Euro 2008, made sure they would not suffer the same fate.
In a thrilling end-to-end contest in front of a raucous throng here in Pretoria, the talented Spanish squad eked out a 2-1 victory over a very good Chile side Friday to leapfrog into top spot in Group H.
The Spanish needed at least a point from the match or else would have slinked their way back to Madrid in shame.
Instead, the win means Spain will have a Group of 16 showdown against their neighbours from Portugal, an enticing grudge match that will feature stars such as David Villa, Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Chile, meanwhile, will meet Brazil in an all-South American affair that will be sure to have tempers boiling when the two teams take to the pitch.
The Spanish got off to an electric start courtesy of goal-scoring machine Villa, whose right boot produced some much-needed magic in the 24th minute.
When Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo dived out to stop an onrushing Spanish player at the top of the box, the ball came to Villa, who looped it over Villa's head and into the back of the net.
After Iniesta put Spain up 2-0 in the 37th minute, Chile tightened things up just two minutes after the half courtesy of a Rodrigo Millar goal.
With the score narrowed to 2-1, the Spanish had several nailbiting moments through much of the second half. But in the last five minutes, usually considered crunch time, Spain showed its class by passing the ball around and playing keepaway, leaving Chile practically helpless until the final whistle.
Spain possessed the ball for 59% of the game, the type of dominance that allowed it to get past Germany in the final of Euro 2008.
Now it will be looking for more of that same formula, one that made it one the pre-tournament favourites.