Spain Saves the Day (and Night)

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Day and night at the World Cup. In the afternoon, Japan and Paraguay, two teams terrified to lose at this stage in the tournament, mud-wrestled for 120 minutes before Japan dissolved in a penalty kick shootout, 5-3. To be honest, I didn’t see the end of the game. Fortunately, I had to leave for the Spain vs. Portugal match—two teams that expect to be here in the late stages. They didn’t disappoint. Spain emerged with a 1-0 victory and the prospect of crushing Paraguay in the quarterfinals.

Not unexpectedly, Portugal played mouse to Spain’s cat for most of the evening, frustrating the Spaniards with aggressive defending and looking to counterattack with Cristiano Ronaldo. Spain came out swinging: Three times in the opening 7 minutes goalkeeper Eduardo had to make big saves as Spain attacked Portugal’s right fullback Ricardo Costa, whose long night ended with a red card in the 89th minute. Eduardo would be sensational all night, keeping his team in the game as it struggled to feed the ball to Ronaldo.  Spain finally broke through in the 63rd minute, when a crisp series of passes from Andres Iniesta to Xavi to David Villa put Villa at Eduardo’s doorstep. Eduardo blocked the first shot, but the ball rebounded to Villa and he found the net easily with the second.

For the rest of the evening, Spain made Portugal chase the game,  stringing pass after pass as the minutes ticked down. Portugal would have a couple of great chances, but none of them from Ronaldo, who was reduced to his usual flop and whine routine, one that Argentine referee Hector Baldassi wanted nothing to do with. Had Portugal’s anonymous midfield been able to increase the supply of passes to Ronaldo, his team might have come up with something. But that’s tough to do when Xavi, Iniesta and company won’t let you have the ball. They play like they own it.

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