Spain slips past Paraguay
But must find way to step up against Germany
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Spain's David Villa, left, celebrates his goal with Cesc Fabregas during World Cup quarterfinal play at Ellis Park Stadium. (REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)
JOHANNESBURG - The No. 1 goal of any soccer team is to advance.
Goal attained for Spain.
But if the No. 2 goal is to impress, Spain has a long way to go before they turn any heads.
Spain struggled mightily against a tough, gutsy Paraguay side, having to wait until late in the second half to subdue Paraguay 1-0.
It was super-sniper David Villa who saved Spain yet again. Up until Villa connected, Spain had trouble putting together a series of good passes. When they did manage to make any headway against the organized Paraguayans, the last pass always seemed to miss.
Spain was finally able to break Paraguay open in the 83rd minute when Andres Iniesta started a movement that set Pedro loose in the Paraguay penalty area. His shot hit the post but deflected right to Villa.
Villa hit the same post but the ball bounced across the goalline, hitting the other post and going in.
It was his fifth goal in the tournament.
The win was a huge relief for one of the pre-tournament favourites. Spain has watched some of the top teams in the tournament head home early.
"We are in the last four in the world and it's a good moment for Spanish football," said Spain manager Vincent Del Bosque. "But we have to play better."
No doubt about that.
Even though Spain wound up winning, it too was vulnerable in a game that Paraguay was happy to let stay tied for as long as possible.
There was one word to describe the first half: dreadful.
It was quite a change of pace from the magnificent performance the Germans put on in its 4-0 win against Argentina. It was like going from a Porsche to a Pinto between both quarter-final games.
But like a Porsche when it begins to motor, Spain and Paraguay went from zero to 60 in no time flat.
That's what happened early in the second half when three penalty kicks were awarded.
The first went to Paraguay, but Oscar Cardozo had his penalty saved by Spanish keeper Iker Casillas.
Spain came right back down the field and this time it was Villa who was hauled down.
Xabi Alonso converted the spot kick, but referee Carlos Batres from Guatemala felt Spanish players encroached the penalty area too quickly and made Alonso retake it.
This time, Paraguay's Justo Villar came up with the stop. Sergio Ramos had a chance to score on the rebound, but his shot was kicked off the line by a Paraguayan defender.
That adrenaline rush seemed to give the teams a little boost, or maybe it was the fear the game would eventually come down to penalty kicks. Whatever it was, both managed to produce some chances, and just when it looked like the game was headed to extra time, Iniesta produced the deft touch that started the play for the winning goal.
The win set up a heavyweight battle between Spain and Germany in Durban Wednesday.
But if Spain plays as it did Saturday, it won't be much of a bout at all.
Del Bosque conceded that Germany is “the best team at the moment.”
Germany tore apart a pretty good Argentina side and will do the same to Spain if the Spaniards don't play with a little more precision and urgency.
"Quite apart from their results, the Germans are playing brilliantly, so they must be tremendously motivated," said Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta.
It will be a rematch of the 2008 European Championship final won by Spain.
Del Bosque will have a few days to think about his lineup, but he faces some difficult decisions. The toughest will be what to do with striker Fernando Torres.
Torres once again was ineffective and was substituted in the second half.
Germany is the real heavyweight of the tournament right now. It is able to throw a lot of different punches.
If Spain wants to have any chance against Germany in this showdown, it needs to come up with more than just one.