29 June 2010

Spain 1-0 Portugal

Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
Busquets Alonso
Iniesta Xavi Villa

Costa Carvalho Alves Coentrão
Ronaldo Tiago Meireles Simão

Villa 63'

Villa, Villa, Maravilla...

Outside of the opening ten minutes, with Torres' early strike reminiscent of his goal of the season against Sunderland and two from Villa cutting in from the left saved, Portugal made Spain work incredibly hard in the first half. There's a reason they were one of two teams to make it through the group stage without conceding.

As has happened often this tournament, Spain were narrow, with Iniesta often on top of Xavi, leaving massive gaps for Coentrão. Conversely, the charging Portuguese left back, as well as Ronaldo and Simão, used the flanks well, limiting Spanish possession, even though la Roja still had the clear edge.

And despite those very early chances, Portugal had the better opportunities to open the scoring. In the 20th minute, Tiago found space with the Spanish defense awkwardly retreating, with Casillas making the save and punching the rebound clear under pressure from Almeida. Eight minutes later, Iker spilled Ronaldo's deep, swerving free kick, thankful to see Pique clear the rebound.

Too often, Spanish possession led to naught, and I've been massively impressed by the way Quieroz has organized his defense. They were happy to sit deep, negating Torres and Villa's pace as well as limiting the space for shrewd operators such as Xavi and Iniesta with Pepe tackling everything that moved.

Once again, Torres will come under a lot of scrutiny, anonymous and off the pace after his first-minute shot, and it was little surprise to see him go off before the hour mark. Portugal again nearly snuck a goal after the interval – breaking down the field, Almeida turned Pique and centered, with Puyol almost redirecting into his own net, watching the ball luckily bounce just wide of the far post with Casillas stranded.

But Spain finally broke loose after the substitution, with the target-man Llorente replacing the Liverpool striker. The substitute nearly scored seconds after coming on, his first touch a diving header on Ramos' whipped cross, only to see Eduardo again equal.

Then came Villa. He curled a shot a foot wide of the far post less than a minute after Llorente's chance, then finally got his fourth of the tournament in the 63rd. Finally, the Xavi-Iniesta axis paid dividends, Iniesta to Xavi at the top of the box, with a lovely backheel putting Villa in on the left, aided by Simão watching the theatrics instead of marking the striker. Eduardo saved the first shot, but had no chance when Villa sent the rebound into the roof of the net. At long last.

And a goal to the good, Spain's tiki-taka attack was the absolute best form of defense, with Portugal unable to get the ball back, let alone threaten the Spanish backline. Eduardo saved excellent efforts from Ramos and Villa to prevent a game-killing second, giving Portugal the chance to frazzle nerves in injury time despite Costa's sending off for an elbow that Capdevilla rightfully played up.

But neither Ronaldo, prancing and petulant as usual, nor his minions, could test Casillas, and Spain's now one of the three European sides in the quarterfinals having beaten back the younger brother in the Iberian derby. Portugal scored seven goals this tournament – two more than Spain – but all of them came against North Korea. Cote d'Ivoire, Brazil, and Spain – three tough teams, to be sure – all shut them out. I hope Nike still has the receipt for that Ronaldo statue.

All headlines will focus on Villa, and rightfully so. Yet again with the winner, having tallied four of Spain's five goals and providing the assist on the other. There are still worries – Torres' fitness, the defense's susceptibility, Casillas still shaky at times, and a lack of width. But Portugal, with Ronaldo, Simão, and Coentrão, as well as Danny off the bench, were unable to test that lack of width or punish gaps left by Spain's attacking fullbacks and narrow midfielders. That bodes well.

Next up is Paraguay, who dawdled through an absolutely awful match to win on penalties this morning. But as Switzerland frighteningly proved in the first match, Spain simply cannot rest on its laurels.


Anonymous said...

The only thing which blurrs the performance ist that Villa's goal was (clearly) offside. But thats football!

nate said...

Didn't see that in real time, which is why I didn't mention it. Now, watching the highlights, I don't think it's "clearly," and it would have been next to impossible for the linesman to see through the mass of bodies, but you're right, seems he might have been half a step early.