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2:30 PM ET, July 3, 2010
Ellis Park Stadium
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Villa strike sends Spain into last four with WCup win over tenacious Paraguay
JOHANNESBURG -- David Villa has millions of friends in Spain these days and two pretty good ones in South Africa -- the goalposts at Ellis Park.Villa banked in the only goal of Spain's 1-0 victory over Paraguay in the World Cup quarterfinals off not one post, but both of them. Villa took the tournament scoring lead with his fifth goal, in the 83rd minute, setting off a crescendo of blaring vuvuzelas in the stadium and further cementing his status as his nation's top player.His goal Saturday night finished off a brilliant, three-way passing combination that typifies the way the European champions like to play. It sent Spain into the World Cup's final four for the first time in 60 years and highlighted a chaotic second half."The post wanted it to go in," Villa said.Now Spain faces Germany on Wednesday in Durban -- a reprise of its 1-0 victory in the Euro 2008 final."Every game is different," Villa added. "I'm sure Germany isn't happy we got through."One night after penalty kicks decided Uruguay's shootout win over Ghana, they were critical in Spain's victory as a somewhat subdued match suddenly got wild in a two-minute span of the second half.Gerard Pique pulled down Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo in the penalty area on a corner kick, earning a yellow card and giving Cardozo a penalty kick. With a stadium full of vuvuzelas reaching a crescendo, the striker who ended his team's shootout win over Japan was denied brilliantly this time by Iker Casillas, who dived left to block Cardozo's low kick."He will know this is the way of football," Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino said. "This can happen. It's important for him not to feel bad."Seconds later, Villa broke free behind the defense and was hauled down by Antolin Alcoraz, who drew a yellow card. Xabi Alonso went to the penalty spot and sent a wicked drive into the net.Again, the stadium rocked, but referee Carlos Batres of Guatemala waved off the goal, saying a Spain player entered the area too soon.Given a second chance, keeper Justo Villar guessed correctly, diving left to stop the penalty kick. He also knocked the rebound away from Cesc Fabregas before defender Paulo Da Silva made a leg save at the goal line on another shot by Sergio Ramos.After that wild sequence, it seemed anything was possible.And for Spain, anything is possible with Villa on the field. Not only is he the Spaniards' best finisher, but he's a sparkplug with his darting runs and imaginative moves."He's at the top of his form," coach Vicente del Bosque said. "He's first to the ball every time. Villa had that hunger for the goal that allowed him to convert."That goal came off the kind of attack that has carried Spain toward the top of the soccer world. Andres Iniesta surged through the Paraguay defense and passed to the right to Pedro, whose right-footed kick slammed off the goalpost.The rebound came to Villa, and his shot hit the far post, then -- amazingly -- caromed across the net, off the left post and in.Fans for both teams wore red and blended into the color scheme of the seats in Ellis Park Stadium. Even if you couldn't see them so well, you sure could hear their vuvuzelas blaring, especially when Villa scored.But Paraguay, a nation that never has been a factor at the World Cup and hasn't won a major title since Copa America in 1979, wasn't about to fold. The final six minutes of regulation and three minutes of extra time featured free-flowing soccer at both ends, and Casillas once again had to rescue the Spaniards.Lucas Barrios broke free on right wing and Casillas charged out of his net to stop his hard drive. The rebound went to Roque Santa Cruz, and Casillas scrambled back to make a spectacular stop to preserve victory."Then Casillas, he was extraordinary," del Bosque said. "Two magnificent stops there."At the end, as the Spanish players rushed to mob Casillas, a distraught Cardozo walked away from teammates and team officials, holding his jersey over his face, wiping away tears.A tournament that belonged to South America for two rounds now has only Uruguay remaining from that continent after Brazil and Argentina also lost in the quarterfinals.With the likes of Villa, Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Ramos and Fabregas, Spain's game flows the way Brazil and Argentina have been known to do. It will need all of its creativity and a lot more precision against the Germans, who have scored four goals in three matches and routed England and Argentina in their last two games."The Germans have played a brilliant World Cup so far," Iniesta said. "We're also at the top of our game, I think. It will be a game between two rivals who enjoy having the ball and I think it will be a beautiful battle."Paraguay's players couldn't have been more relaxed before the game, smiling and waving to TV cameras as they came off their bus, then talking on cell phones and joking around on the pitch 90 minutes before kickoff.The Spaniards were more matter-of-fact, in direct contrast to their playing style. They gathered in a circle and chatted, only occasionally giving a wave to their fans as the stadium began to fill.But they gave them a huge thrill at the end, thanks to Villa and Casillas.