Villa was the difference maker


All week Spanish fans have been debating which Fernando should lead their line -- the out-of-form Torres or the favoured Llorente.

At the end of their 1-0 quarter-final victory over Paraguay, the answer was pretty clear. Who is worried when you have David Villa in the team?

Villa's fifth goal of the tournament, a cool winner with a touch of good fortune as the ball flew in off both posts, was only half the reason why.

Playing with Villa down the middle, Spain were transformed.

Until Torres was taken off in the 56th minute, to be replaced by Cesc Fabregas, Spain had struggled to break through a very well organised Paraguay defence, assisted by a midfield that helped crowd out Spain's creative players.

Image: David Villa celebrates after scoring against Paraguay
Photographs: Reuters

Spain looked to the wide areas for some hope of creating the angles and the spaces to penetrate the Paraguayan back-line but a combination of poor crossing, tenacious defending and lack of movement from Torres undid them.

The criticism that Torres has received in this tournament for his below-par performances is somewhat unfair -- he simply does not look sharp or fit enough, after his knee operation, to be playing in games of this import.

Fabregas came off the bench into midfield with Villa, who had operated on the flanks, moving into a central position and Andres Iniesta moving into a more advanced position on the left.

The significance of the switch was masked somewhat by the penalty which came moments afterwards for Paraguay but after Iker Casillas saved Oscar Cardozo's spot-kick, the new shape of Spain became apparent.

Image: Fernando Torres fights for the ball with Paraguay's da Silva

It was Villa who raced through the middle and was pushed over for a penalty for Spain which Xabi Alonso converted but was forced to re-take due to encroachment and the second time Justo Villar made a fine save.

The two penalties galvanised both teams and suddenly space began to open up -- and that was only good news for the Spaniards.

Paraguay's game plan had been clear -- to stifle Spain -- and they had done a very good job of that task for an hour but as soon as they gained a little ambition, they left the gate slightly ajar for Spain.

With Villa now aimed at the heart of their defence and Iniesta, Xavi and Fabregas all buzzing around, Spain started to threaten in a way they simply had not managed previously.

When Xabi Alonso went off for the more attack-minded Pedro with 15 minutes left it was clear that Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque did not fancy sitting through an extra half-hour of football.

That substitution paid off too with Pedro hitting the post before Villa pounced on the rebound and drove home, with the help of a friendly ricochet.

Image: Iker Casillas saves a penalty by Paraguay's Cardozo

It was not a vintage Spain performance but it earned a last four spot against Germany and served up a very clear reminder of their strengths.

Germany will not need much reminding of those given their European Championship final defeat just a couple of years ago.

The crisp passing and sharp movement of Spain's elegant attacking players really does not require a target man, let alone an out-of-form one.

In Villa they have the perfect modern forward -- a player capable of operating anywhere across the line, with the ability to dribble and pass as well as to finish with deadly accuracy.

Against the Germans, Del Bosque will surely be tempted to start with Villa backed up by the pace and guile of a multi-faceted attacking trio and play to Spain's considerable strengths.

Image: David Villa

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