The final last sixteen day managed just one goal in open play. We had to wait for over 180 minutes of football before David Villa scored Spain’s winner in a tight Iberian derby with Portugal. Paraguay, meanwhile, left their victory until penalties where they remained unfazed and converted all five, knocking out Japan in one of the dullest ties of the tournament.
Spain 1-0 Portugal
The fantastic David Villa came to Spain’s rescue as they defeated neighbouring country Portugal in the final round of sixteen clash. A tight game that lacked any clear-cut chances, Spain were comfortable in possession and ultimately had the better of Portugal.
Spain were comfortable for much of the first half, getting into the game quicker and enjoying a large chunk of the possession. However they found it difficult to break down a defence that was yet to concede a goal in the competition. Portugal struggled to get into the game, however after the half hour mark they did create a couple of chances but none troubled Iker Casillas. The Portuguese probably finished the half on par with Spain, but weren’t as composed and comfortable on the ball.
Second half changes were vital in Spain’s victory, and a similar change was a factor of Portugal’s downfall. Vincente Del Bosque pulled the sharp looking Fernando Torres for Fernando Llorente fifteen minutes into the second half, and the Athletic Bilbao striker played a huge part in Spain’s eventual success. Carlos Queiroz took off Hugo Almeida, the lone striker who had done a fair job in an isolated position.
Llorente was the subject of many chances, but with his head, one his first touch in the World Cup and another late on. He should have scored both. But his hold up play, awareness and ability to bring striking partner David Villa into the game more was the biggest factor. It was his control that was the key to breaking the deadlock when Villa chipped a rebound over the superb Eduardo.
Portugal weren’t the same without Almeida, who was obviously struggling with match fitness. Portugal have struggled in finding a leading striker for many years, but Almeida – the youngest of their strikers at 26 – could be a turning point for them in this position. His replacement, Danny – a midfielder, put Cristiano Ronaldo up front where he received little ball possession and when he did, resorted to long range efforts.
Portugal ended their World Cup on a sour note due to the sending off of Ricardo Costa, who was a surprise to start, after he appeared to deliberately elbow Jose Capdevila in the face, who could’ve made less of the incident.
In conclusion, Spain deserved their victory after eventually finding a breakthrough goal against a superb Portugal defence. Del Bosque must be applauded for persisting with David Villa on the left, and for substituting Fernando Llorente in a vital moment in the game.
Portugal go home knowing they lacked goals and creativity in the final third to compliment such a fine back five. They depend too much on Ronaldo, who blows hot and cold too often. Portugal need a link between their defensive minded midfield players and the attacking talent they have, maybe Joao Moutinho will be introduced into the squad for the Euro 2012 qualifications and he’ll be the key to their success.
Japan 0-0 Paraguay (Paraguay win 5-3 on penalties)
As expected, it was not the most entertaining of last sixteen games, both aesthetically and tactically. After 21 goals in the previous six last sixteen games, it was inevitable we’d see one terribly negative game, void of talking points and viewing pleasure.
Both sides played similar formations, one leading striker – Keisuke Honda for Japan, and Lucas Barrios for Paraguay, with five midfielders. Roque Santa Cruz operated out on the right hand side of the field, and received plenty of the ball to influence play as illustrated in the heat map. The right hand side of the field, around where Santa Cruz operated, gathered 25% of Paraguay’s ball possession.
Despite disappointing negativity from either side, there were plenty of attempts on goal – however few troubled either ‘keeper. Japan have shown that they have mastered the Jubalani football, and Daisuke Matsui nearly scored one of the goals of the tournament but was denied by the crossbar.
Paraguay’s best opportunity came from a magical piece of skill from Barrios in the box to turn two Japanese defenders, but he fired his shot straight at Eiji Kawashima.
Paraguay tried to raise the tempo of the game in the second half, while Japan broke off some of the shackles that had pulled them back in the first half. There were plenty of chances from either side, but none clinical enough to take the lead and seal a victory. Ultimately, it came to penalties where Paraguay kept their cool to progress. Yuichi Komano missed for Japan, he skied his spot kick into the wood work.
It was up to Oscar Cardozo to win it for Paraguay, and he calmly slotted in the winning kick. No surprises, as he showed his penalty-taking ability twice against Liverpool last season in the Europa League. The only surprise was that he didn’t start for Paraguay.
It was a dull, dreary game with negative and unadventurous tactics in the first half, but it did have it’s chances and at stages it felt that there was going to be a breakthrough. Japan will feel hard done by, but their standards were very high and their manager had earmarked them to reach the semi-finals. They played some neat attacking football at times, but relied too heavily on set-pieces.
Paraguay go on to face Spain, far from an easy task but there are weakness in the Spanish side that Gerardo Martino could target. They are good attacking, and fairly decent at the back, with plenty of aerial ability. It will be a monumental task beating Spain, but it surely can’t be any more boring than what we saw today.