David Villa finished off a move of Spanish perfection to finally break down Portugal's defensive wall Tuesday and give the European champions a 1-0 win and spot in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Villa scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the 63rd minute in Cape Town, South Africa, while Cristiano Ronaldo again failed to inspire Portugal.
A trademark Spanish passing move found Andres Iniesta in the centre. He flicked the ball through to Xavi Hernandez, who backheeled to Villa, who was bordering on being offside as he charged in on the left.
The Barcelona-bound striker saw his first shot blocked by Portugal goalkeeper Eduardo, but on the rebound, he coolly slotted home with his right foot.
"It was one of my best goals because it got us through to the next round," Villa said. "Keep scoring so we can keep going."
Portugal's only defensive weakness had been on its right flank, where Ricardo Costa struggled. He was sent off for elbowing Joan Capdevila in the 89th minute, stifling a late Portuguese drive.
"The match was extremely intense," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "In the second half, we were better than Portugal. We had greater depth in our play, and we controlled the game very well."
Eduardo solid for Portugal
Ronaldo, the world's most expensive player, showed only rare flashes of brilliance at the tournament, however.
"We believed that he can do it," Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz said. "He is our leader, our captain."
Spain will now play Paraguay in the quarter-finals on Saturday at Ellis Park (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET).
Exactly two years after Spain ended a 44-year drought by winning the European Championship, the team stayed on course to become the first European champion to add a World Cup title since West Germany did it in 1974.
Spain was about teamwork, and it showed from the start. Fernando Torres and Villa immediately moved down the left, looking to exploit Portugal's weakness on right back. Within the first seven minutes, Eduardo had to make three quality saves to keep Portugal in the game on angled shots from Spain's two strikers.
"His performance was brilliant," Queiroz said of his goalkeeper. "He saved and kept the team fighting for the result."
Portugal went out of the tournament after conceding its first goal in four games.
"To lose by one goal in a championship hurts very badly," Eduardo said.
After the sterling start, strangely enough, Spain did not continue to pound Portugal's weak right side and instead settled for the intricate passing game through the centre it has become famous for.
Ronaldo off form again
Once Portugal's defence settled, it proved why it has one of the best in the world, conceding only one goal in its last 12 matches. It clogged play in the centre and Spain got frustrated to the extent that it was reduced to long-range attempts Gerard Pique.
"We never lost our confidence," Villa said. "We know the potential we have and what we can give."
Portugal's problem was that Ronaldo was yet again off form. Right before the opening whistle, he looked up at the night sky and started pleading with his arms outstretched, almost begging to finally make his mark on a huge game.
The heavens didn't respond.
Ronaldo's best attempt came from a free kick in the 28th minute when he launched the ball from 35 yards with such unpredictable dipping swerve and speed that all Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas could do was block it with his body and see the ball bounce free.
Otherwise, Portugal could rely little on its captain. As he was pointing left and right where his teammates should go, he often walked.
In four games, he had shown only a few flashes of his brilliance.
Early in the second half, Portugal almost got the breakthrough it wanted when a cross from Hugo Almeida bounced off the leg of Carles Puyol and the deflection sailed marginally wide of Casillas' goal.
For all of Torres's running, he still showed he had not fully recovered from his right knee operation in April. Instead of scoring the winner like he did two years ago to, he was replaced by Fernando Llorente in the 59th, and the match immediately changed.
Llorente had a great header on his first touch of the ball, which Eduardo saved. But two minutes later, Villa scored the lone goal.