jOHANNESBURG – For decades Spain has approached the World Cup the same way most high school freshman approach algebra. They’ll go ahead and give it a try, but don’t expect great results.
In the last 60 years Spain has gone to the tournament 10 times. And seven times they came home after the first or second round. Once they entered as the reigning European champions yet managed to win just one game.
But all that history is, well, just history now. Because after Saturday’s hard-fought, 1-0 win over stubborn Paraguay, Spain has advanced to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1950, when the tournament had just 16 teams.
“This represents a great moment for Spanish football,” Spanish Coach Vicente del Bosque said.
The Spanish are once again European champions. For most of the last two years, they’ve been ranked No. 1 in the world and they won all 10 of their matches in World Cup qualifying.
And now, thanks to David Villa’s foot and soft goalposts, Spain is just a win away from the World Cup final.
Villa banked in the only goal off not one post, but both of them. Villa took the tournament scoring lead with his fifth goal, in the 83rd minute.
His goal Saturday 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.”
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.
Cardozo, who ended his team’s shootout win over Japan, was denied this time by Iker Casillas, who dived left to block the 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 fouled by Antolin Alcoraz, who drew a yellow card. Xabi Alonso went to the penalty spot and sent a wicked drive into the net.
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 make the save. 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.
Paraguay did find the net in the 41st minute, but Nelson Valdez was ruled offside.