Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Quarter-final 4: Spain 1-0 Paraguay

In readiness for a game in which both sides were bidding to go further than they had ever gone before Paraguay made a massive six changes, probably a record number of changes between a second-round match and a quarter-final. Most changes were made in the attacking third with Cruz, Benitez and Barrios being consigned to the bench.

Spain were not themselves in this game though this could be at least partially attributed to Paraguay forcing them to play poorly. Spain's fluid passing game appeared to have been replaced by disjointed passing and a team that couldn't get a proper stranglehold on the game. Not that Paraguay could either in what was a tense, difficult battle for both sides in which, if anything Paraguay were slightly better on the overall balance of play.

Paraguay were indeed unlucky not to be ahead at half-time after Valdez scored on the 40 minute mark, only for it to be ruled offside. The decision was touch and go. Valdez appeared to be just onside but Cardozo (who the ball drifted over on it's way to Valdez) appeared to be offside. The question of course is whether Cardozo was interfering with play, and with the lack of clarity of the law as it stands both interpretations are legitimate. Paraguay could so easily have been ahead.

The match had a bizarre turn of events during the second half. Pique wrestled Cardozo to the ground in the box, conceding a penalty. Cardozo's penalty was a reasonable effort but Casillas pulled off an excellent save, and he did very well to hold onto the ball in the process. Second's later it was Spain's turn to be awarded a penalty, Alcarez adjudged to have bundled Villa over in the box in what was an incredibly harsh decision. Alonso duly converted only for Batres to order a retake for encroachment. It was technically correct with one or two players feet a couple of inches into the box. It was almost as if Batres realised he had made the wrong call initially to award the penalty and was trying to prevent them from scoring it. Villar saved the penalty and scrambled the ball away to safety. In the process he made a clear trip on a Spaniard with his arms but no penalty was given.

The game was finally decided with around 7 minutes to go. It was a lovely move by Spain. Iniesta skilfully set up Pedro after a classic delightful Xavi flick. Pedro's excellent shot was thwarted by the post but Villa scored the rebound, albeit this also coming off the post. They deserved a goal for the move but they barely deserved the win. Paraguay had done a great job of preventing Spain from playing in the manner they are accustomed and for that deserve a lot of credit. It really could have gone either way. The Guatemalan ref left a fair bit to be desired also, it has to be said.

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