David Villa scored in the 83rd minute to lift Spain to its first-ever FIFA World Cup semifinal appearance after dispatching Paraguay 1-0 Saturday in Johannesburg.
For a game with everything on the line, it was a dreary affair for much of the match.
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Paraguay manager Gerardo Martino elected to make six changes to his starting 11 for this game, benching his three scoreless strikers (Roque Santa Cruz, Edgar Benitez and Lucas Barrios) and switching from his usual 4-3-3 formation to a more defensive 4-4-2 system in an attempt to stop the talented Spaniards.
The tactic worked for much of the game. Paraguay clogged their defensive third, containing Spain's skilled players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, giving them very little time on the ball to create scoring chances.
Spain finally broke through in the latter stages of the match, with Villa burying his fifth goal of the tournament to secure the victory.
Of course, the outcome could have been much different had Nelson Valdez's goal counted in the 41st minute (he was ruled offside). With the defensive game plan Martino's squad was employing, a one-goal lead might have held up.
For Spain, the quarter-final win was a positive step in shedding its label as "chokers" on the world stage. Though it's ranked No. 2 in the world, is the reigning European champion and has only lost three of its last 55 games, Spain still has that stigma of not winning soccer's biggest prize.
To get a chance at that elusive crown, it will have to get through Germany, the same team Spain defeated 1-0 to capture Euro 2008.
What this result means
Spain advances to the semifinals next Wednesday where it will meet Germany, 4-0 winners over Argentina in the other quarter-final earlier Saturday.
It's the first time La Roja have reached the semifinals of the World Cup (they finished fourth in 1950, when the title was decided by a four-team final).
The turning point
It was an uninspiring fixture until the 57th minute when, within a span of two minutes, both teams were awarded penalty shots.
First, on a Paraguayan corner kick, Spain defender Gerard Pique was yellow-carded for yanking down Oscar Cardozo with both hands. On the ensuing penalty kick by Cardozo, goalkeeper Iker Casillas dove the right way and made the save.
Just a minute later in the other end, Paraguayan fullback Antolin Alcaraz banged into David Villa in the penalty area and a spot kick was awarded. Xabi Alonso stepped up and clinically finished the penalty, but the referee ordered a re-kick because Spain's players entered the box before the ball was kicked.
On the re-do, Paraguay keeper Justo Villa stopped Alonso's strike, keeping the game locked 0-0.
From then on, the pace of the match picked up.
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The winning goal
Iniesta worked his magic just outside the 18-yard box, dribbling through two Paraguayan defenders before passing the ball off with the outside of his foot to Pedro streaking down the right side. Pedro's strike rang off the right post, but Villa was there to gobble up the rebound, cracking a shot that went off both posts and in for his tournament-leading fifth goal of the World Cup.
Man of the match
Spain goalkeeper Casillas wasn't very busy in this match, but he came up big when he was called upon. In the 57th minute, he stopped a penalty shot by Oscar Cardozo and in the final minute of the game, he preserved the win for his team, stopping Roque Santa Cruz's point-blank shot.