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WORLD CUP: Unimpressive Spain struggle into World Cup semi-finals

Spain needed a late David Villa goal to see them through in a less than convincing fashion against a battling Paraguay team. PAR: 0 SPA: 1

Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg Crowd: 55,359 Officials Referee: Carlos Batres (Guatemala) Assistants: Leonel Leal (Costa Rica) and Carlos Pastrana (Honduras) Fourth official: Benito Archundia (Mexico) Yellow cards:PAR - Alcaraz, Morel, Caceres, Santana SPA - Pique, Busquets

Red cards: none MATCH REPORT Spain came into this tournament as one of the favourites but they will have to play an awful lot better than this stuttering 1-0 victory over Paraguay if they are to claim the World Cup.

The Spaniards are seen as 'chokers' when it comes to major international competition for their failure to perform when needed, and for large parts of this game Paraguay frustrated them and will rue their missed penalty.

Not that the European Champions were blameless from 12 yards, scoring from one but then failing with the retaken penalty. And just when it seemed the game was heading for extra time Spain got out of jail courtesy of their goal machine David Villa.

A forgettable first half saw Spain struggle against the South American's who denied them space and restricted their normal passing game. Even when in possession Spain were wasteful with passes going astray or crosses over hit.

Just before the break Paraguay had the ball in the net through Nelson Haedo Valdez but the goal was ruled offside because of his striking partner Oscar Cardozo.

The second period looked like being a carbon copy of the first until Paraguay began to tire and the game began to open up, but even so the Europeans never looked totally confident.

Paraguay were handed a wonderful opportunity to take the lead when Gerard Pique clearly hauled down Cardozo from a corner on 57 minutes. The same player took the penalty but Iker Casillas easily saved his effort. Then came the drama at the other end just a couple of minutes later.

This time Villa was tripped by Antolin Alcaraz. Another penalty. Xabi Alonso scored confidently with his first chance only for referee Carlos Batres to insist it be retaken because of encroachment. Alonso's second attempt was parried by Justo Villar and in the ensuing scramble the keeper blatantly brought down substitute Cesc Fabregas but the officials saw nothing.

Spain began to exert pressure as Paraguay's pressing game began to tell on tired legs and with eight minutes remaining Villa scored the winner, again with a touch of drama.

Andres Iniesta weaved past two tackles and teed up substitute Rodriguez Pedro whose shot hit the post and rebounded back to Villa. His curled reply hit one post, then the other before finally finding the back of the net.

There was still time for Paraguay to have one final chance to take the game into extra-time when Casillas spilled a shot but reacted quickly to smother substitute Roque Santa Cruz's follow up effort.

So Spain make the World Cup semi-final's for the first time since 1950, but a vast improvement will be needed for their encounter with Germany. Starting Line-Ups


1. Justo Villar 2. Dario Veron 21. Antolin Alcaraz 14. Paulo Da Silva 3. Claudio Morel Rodriguez 15. Victor Caceres (Barrios, 84) 11. Jonathan Santana 8. Edgar Barreto (Vera, 64) 16. Cristian Riveros 18. Nelson Haedo Valdez (Santa Cruz, 72) 7. Oscar Cardozo SUBS

12. Diego Barreto (GK) 4. Denis Caniza 5. Julio Caceres 6. Carlos Bonet 9. Roque Santa Cruz 10. Edgar Benitez 13. Enrique Vera 17. Aureliano Torres 19. Lucas Barrios 20. Nestor Ortigoza 22. Aldo Bobadilla (GK) 23. Rodolfo Gamarra SPA

1. Iker Casillas 15. Garcia Sergio Ramos 3. Gerard Pique 5. Carles Puyol (Marchena, 84) 11. Joan Capdevila 16. Sergio Busquets 6. Andres Iniesta 14. Xabi Alonso (Pedrito, 75) 8. Hernandez Xavi 7. David Villa 9. Fernando Torres (Fabregas, 56)


12. Victor Valdes (GK) 2. Raul Albiol 4. Carlos Marchena 10. Francesc Fabregas 13. Juan Mata 17. Alvaro Arbeloa 18. Rodriguez Pedro 19. Fernando Llorente 20. Aguinaga Javi Martinez 21. David Silva 22. Gonzalez Jesus Navas 23. Jose Reina (GK)

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