Villa rallies behind strike partner Torres

Fernando TorresSpanish goal hero David Villa [ Images ] has rallied behind Fernando Torres [ Images ] after his strike partner turned in another disappointing World Cup performance in the European champions' 1-0 win over Portugal on Tuesday.

Torres has looked well short of his best after returning from knee surgery days before the tournament and Spain's passage into the last eight, where they will face Paraguay, was only secured after he was replaced in the second half by burly Basque striker Fernando Llorente.

Llorente succeeded in sowing chaos among the Portugal defence where Torres had failed and was involved in the move that led to Villa scoring the second-half goal that gave Spain a 1-0 victory over their European neighbours.

"We know what state his knee was in a month ago and I don't agree with those who say that Fernando Torres's performances have been below par," Villa told reporters at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium.

"The only blame you can pin on him in the opening stages (of the World Cup) is that he hasn't scored," he added. "His desire to be with the team has been spectacular."

Coach Vicente del Bosque has kept faith with Torres, deploying him in attack with Villa from the start in Spain's last three matches in South Africa [ Images ] after bringing him on as a substitute against Switzerland [ Images ] in their opening Group H game.

The Liverpool striker has yet to repay that faith with a goal and Llorente's impressive contribution on Tuesday could prompt Del Bosque to reconsider his tactics.

Del Bosque told a news conference after the Portugal match that he had withdrawn Torres because the striker was tired.

"More than a tactical change, it was about bringing on a player who was fresh," he said. "Llorente brought that physical vitality to the team."

The coach also had warm praise for Villa, who netted his fourth goal of the tournament and is now just two short of Raul's national scoring record of 44.

"Apart from the goal he scored, you have to recognise the enormous amount of work he did for the team," Del Bosque said.

"He is used to playing up front but today he helped out in defence in a way that left me feeling very pleased."

Spain play their quarter-final against Paraguay at Johannesburg's Ellis Park [ Images ] Stadium on Saturday and the winners will take on Argentina or Germany [ Images ] for a place in the final.

© Copyright 2010 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.