World Cup 2010 - Spain to face Germany after edging Paraguay
A late goal by David Villa proved enough for the Spanish in a close, often frustrating and occasionally thrilling encounter that saw both sides miss penalties in successive passages of play.
With eight minutes left the Barcelona striker bagged his fifth goal of the finals - making him top-scorer so far - when his finish ricocheted off the inside of both posts before spinning over the line.
It was his 43rd international goal - one shy of Raul’s Spanish record - and put Spain into a semi-final knockout match for the first time in World Cup history : the last time they got this far was in 1950, when the final four was a group stage.
It was heartbreaking for the South Americans, who fought like lions, were denied a seemingly legitimate first-half goal and were in tears at the final whistle - with striker Oscar Cardozo, who missed from the spot, inconsolable.
Paraguay set their stall out to frustrate Spain but in the first half they were the better side and created more chances.
In the first minute Iker Casillas was tested by Jonathan Santana’s low drive, while Nelson Valdez went close when he raced in to block a Casillas clearance, before seeing a goal disallowed for offside.
The disallowed goal towards the end of the first half was a contentious decision as Valdez was onside when controlling and finishing high ball: Cardozo was half a yard off, but as the Benfica striker did not touch the ball at any point during the move he might easily have been deemed not to be interfering with play.
Vicente Del Bosque’s side were struggling to make the right decisions as Justo Villar in the Paraguay goal barely broke sweat. Their best first-half opportunities fell to Sergio Ramos - who headed Alonso’s cross wide after a short-corner - and Xavi, who dipped a volley over.
The second half started disappointingly for both sides and only came to life when Paraguay were awarded a penalty after Gerard Pique pulled back Cardozo in the box.
Cardozo stepped up, but Casillas guessed the right way and held on to his driven finish.
Spain went straight down the other end and won a penalty, with Wigan's Antolin Alcaraz fortunate not to see red when he brought down Villa, who was clean through on goal.
Alonso tucked away the initial spot-kick but referee Carlos Batres called him back for encroachment: it was the correct decision but an inconsistent one, as there was clearer movement into the box by Spain players when Cardozo missed his penalty.
Villar saved Alonso’s second effort, batting it away from the bottom right, and the Valladolid keeper was fortunate to get away with clobbering substitute Cesc Fabregas as the two came to meet the rebound.
The sense of injustice seemed to spur Spain on, with the previously quiet Andres Iniesta forcing Villar to tip away a curling shot, Xavi shooting just wide after Fabregas’s through-ball was blocked into his path, and Villa missing a free header after Alacaraz failed to clear Joan Capdevila’s cross.
The introduction of Fabregas improved Spain - Liverpool forward Fernando Torres was again poor, and the Arsenal midfielder’s presence allowed Villa to move centrally while the entrance of Pedro gave them natural width.
Spain became dominant while Paraguay were increasingly static, having run themselves into the ground.
And the Spanish finally forced the breakthrough with seven minutes left to play: Iniesta danced into the box before finding Pedro, whose low finish rattled the post and dropped to Villa, who took two touches before clipping his finish around the sliding Paraguay defenders and in off the right and then left posts.
While the Spanish were in control there was a brief scare as Casillas - shaky throughout this tournament - spilled a daisy cutter but rushed out to block Roque Santa Cruz’s finish with a minute left.
They held on to spark scenes of delight on their bench but will have to improve if they are to get past Germany, who set a marker with their 4-0 crushing of Argentina earlier in the day.
Paraguay v Spain
1st Half Goals 0-0
Shots on Target 4-5
Shots off Target 3-6
Blocked Shots 2-4
Yellow Cards 4-2
Red Cards 0-0
Passing Success 60.1%-83.6%
Tackles Success 69.7%-76.5%
Territorial Advantage 45.4%-54.6%