Spain’s players celebrate Villa’s late goal (Getty)

(WFI) David Villa scored his fifth goal of the tournament to save Spain’s blushes against a tough-tackling Paraguay side to put his team into the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in their history.

They will play Germany in Durban next Wednesday, a repeat of the Euro 2008 final which Spain won 1-0.

Underdogs Paraguay will feel hard done by after they had nullified the Spanish attack for 83 minutes.

In Spain’s best move of the match at Ellis Park, Villa slotted home the winner after a shot from Pedro hit the post.

Paraguay had a golden chance to equalise two minutes from time but Iker Casillas pulled off a smart double save to deny first Roque Santa Cruz’s and then Lucas Barrios.

Both teams had earlier failed to capitalise on penalties awarded at either end after the break that could have changed the course of the game.

Villa’s goal puts him top of the scoring charts in the World Cup. The 28-year-old becomes the first player to score in four consecutive games World Cup matches since Ronaldo and Rivaldo at Korea/Japan 2002.

Barcelona’s new $50 million acquisition has now scored 43 goals for Spain, putting him just one short of Raul’s scoring milestone.

In the last eight for the fifth time, Spain had never previously managed to reach the semis.

And early on, that dream seemed a long way off. The drama and entertainment provided by the three other quarter-finals that saw the Netherlands, Uruguay and Germany advance were always going to be a hard act to follow.

But the Euro 2008 champions did little to underline their pre-tournament favourites tag in the first 45 minutes.

The best chances had fallen to Paraguay before the break with Jonathan Santana getting a shot on goal in the first minute – it proved to be the only shot on target in a first period of few clear-cut openings.

Paraguay, who also had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside, set out their tactics from the outset on, closing down quickly, passing the ball around smartly and not allowing Spain to dictate the play. They held their own against Spain’s star-studded midfield who failed to impose themselves. Villa and Fernando Torres were kept quiet, save for the odd jinking run, by some obdurate defending.

Vicente del Bosque’s side lacked their usual fluency going into the break, tactics by his Paraguay counterpart Gerardo Martino that gave the South American team hope.

The game burst into life after the interval when Carlos Batres awarded a penalty for Paraguay on 57 mins when Gerard Pique dragged Oscar Cardozo to the ground. But he shot straight at Casillas from the resulting penalty.

Within a minute, Spain had earned a penalty when Antolin Alcaraz upended Villa.

Xabis Alonso scored from the spot only for the referee to order it be retaken due to players’ moving. This time Villar guessed correctly and saved low down to his right.

Fabregas was tripped in the goalmouth scramble that followed but the referee waved play on.

Spain began to take the initiative as Paraguay tired with Iniesta, later voted Man of the Match, Alonso and Villa causing all sorts of problems for their previously solid defence.

In the fourth meeting between the countries, Paraguay’s stubborn resistance was only broken when Spain put together the move of the game.

Iniesta ran at the defence, shaking off two players before laying off a ball to substitute Pedro. His strike rebounded off the post and fell kindly to Villa who reacted quickly to curl a shot in off the post.

It was Spain’s fourth consecutive win at this World Cup, a feat they have never achieved inany previous edition.
La Roja are now unbeaten in six World Cup matches against South American opposition, a run stretching back to 1986 when they lost 1-0 to Brazil.

INSIDER editor Mark Bisson at Ellis Park, Johannesburg

Cup 2010 Team Profiles
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James Corbett — The definitive history of the England football team,
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