03 July 2010

Spain 1-0 Paraguay

Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
Busquets Alonso
Iniesta Xavi Villa

Veron da Silva Alcaraz Morel
Barreto Caceres Riveros Santana
Valdez Cardozo

Villa 83'

Football is so boring. Yet another 1-0. Ha.

Okay, let's try and do that utter madness justice.

Sadly, the first hour – before the insanity set in – was par for the course as Spain's tournament's gone so far. I made the same joke after the Chile match, but it's still relevant. Somehow, Spain seem to have caught the English disease. I hope it wasn't transmitted through Torres.

Paraguay didn't help matters by pressing furiously, which is why they made six changes from the side that went 120 minutes last time out, but it is still strange to see Spain, of all sides, struggle for fluency. Xavi, Xabi, Iniesta, et al could not keep hold of the ball, and gave away possession like it was an out-of-business sale. Paraguay were the more threatening side on the counter, with all of one shot on target to Spain's zero in the first half. Oh, and a goal dubiously ruled out for offside.

In the 41st minute, with Spain's trap in disarray, Valdez got on the end of a deep cross, somehow didn't handle, and stuck it past Casillas. But the flag went up, ostensibly because Cardozo – who challenged for the ball before it reached Valdez – actually was offside. Yet another active versus inactive debate. Those are always fun.

The first ten minutes after the interval stayed on the same course, with Torres – still off the pace and misfiring – hauled off for Fabregas in the 56th. Then, all hell broke loose.

Almost immediately after the substitution, Paraguay won a corner when Ramos awkwardly headed a Paraguayan hoof into touch. On the set play, Pique, beaten goalside by Cardozo, stupidly yanked the striker's arm, conceding a clear penalty. But somehow Saint Iker not only saved, but held on.

Less than a minute later, Spain had a spot kick of their own. Two, to be precise. And it should have been three. Alonso's throughball put Villa in on goal, brought down by the last man Alcaraz, who somehow only saw yellow. Xabi hammered the penalty perfectly, only to see it brought back because of encroachment. His second was a tamer effort, a replication of Cardozo's low strike, parried by Villar. Fabregas, first to the rebound, was tripped by the keeper – which the referee somehow missed – before Ramos had his put-back cleared off the line by da Silva. To sum up the crazy affair, Villar brilliantly saved Iniesta's curler from the left corner of the box a minute after that. And we thought the last moments of the Uruguay-Ghana match were preposterous.

But Spain kept plugging away, Pedro came on for the unfortunate Alonso fifteen minutes from time, and it was the Barca youngster who had a starring role when Spain finally made the breakthrough. But, of course, it was Villa who tallied the goal: his fifth (of Spain's six) of the tournament. Iniesta finally danced through the defense as we know he can do and put Pedro through on the right, only to see his shot cannon off the post. But once again, Villa's in the right place at the right time for the rebound, somehow hitting both posts before his shot crossed the line. I'm running out of synonyms for "insanity," which basically sums up this match and this sport.

Paraguay had one last threat in them, stealing the ball from Iniesta and chipping over the top for Barrios. Casillas made the save, spilling it right into the path of the on-rushing Santa Cruz, then saved his effort as well. Again, insanity. Utter fucking insanity.

Aside from all that absurdity, it wasn't that different from Spain's four other games. They've looked strangely off-form until scoring in all their matches. Pick your scapegoat: we can blame the long season, their system's lack of true width, Torres' lack of fitness, Spain's shaky defense, or any combination of the above. It was a lot like the Switzerland match, only Paraguay pressed higher up the pitch, especially in the first half, and couldn't get the goal despite their chances. And Spain finally made them pay.

Once again, we know Spain can play better, but we just haven't seen it yet. Once again, they're reliant on the marvelous wonder that is Maravilla for goals. And in four days, they'll be up against the soulless, crushing, counter-attacking monsters that are ze Germans.

So, yeah, football is really boring. Yawn.

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